Patrick Ball

PhD, CTO and Director, Human Rights Programs, Benetech

Secure Data Collection Using Free Software
31 minutes, 14.5mb, recorded 2006-10-12
Patrick Ball

The Benetech initiative emerged from a company in the 1980's that was building OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology to read snail mail. From this came the idea of writing a LAPP (Linux, Apache, PostgressSQL, PHP) software to read books to the blind, and to make it available at just the cost of the components used. Due to legal and copyright restrictions, the use of the application is currently limited to American users, but arrangements are afoot for extending use within Canada, Britain and even India.

Patrick Ball talks about the project that began his association with Benetech and then about a series of software projects undertaken for solving a gammut of problems ranging from adult literacy, secure data retention, encryption, transmission and replication, and statistical analysis. Benetech is a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) shop that also heavily uses Python and Java for their work. They're always on the lookout for hiring bright software developers with those skills.

He speaks of the importance of free software in assisting the organization's efforts. Proprietary software encourages capital drain from the poor to the rich; free software reduces this imbalance of power and resources. With free software, the source code being available, users are guaranteed that there are no privacy violation issues and the software has no back doors.


Patrick Ball, CTO and Director of the Human Rights Program at Benetech, is a leading innovator in applying scientific measurement to human rights. From 1993-2003, he worked at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the Science and Human Rights Program. He has received several awards. In April 2006, the Electronic Frontier Foundation presented him with their Pioneer Award. In August 2002, the Social Statistics Section of the American Statistical Association gave him a Special Achievement Award. In June 2004, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) gave Patrick the Eugene Lawler Award for Humanitarian Contributions within Computer Science and Informatics.

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