Response to GitLab considering take down an Open Source Contact Tracing project

Email content from GitLab regarding their consideration to take down an Open Source Contact Tracing project back-home-safe is published [1] hours ago on LIHKG, a popular web forum for Hongkongers. According to the email, GitLab consider taking it down because HKPF / HKGov thinks that it is a fake copy of the ‘LeaveHomeSafe’ mobile app created by HKGov.

The back-home-safe project is a React.js web app to provide a QR code scanning feature and storing the date, time, and information from QR code to the local storage.

After 3 hours of the post published on LIHKG, GitLab took down the project from their system.

In my opinion:

  1. The source code of this project (a web app written in React.js) on GitLab is not the copy of the original ‘LeaveHomeSafe’ Mobile App (Native mobile apps written for Android and iOS platform). The source code of the software itself is completely different. So, I think that it is no valid reason for GitLab to take down the source code of this software project.
  2. The user interface of the web app built (generated) from this project on GitLab may look like the look & feel of ‘LeaveHomeSafe’, but it is hard to believe that it is a valid copyright claim for such a simple User Interface. We may consider the case of an open source FVWM95 and MS Windows 95. So, I think that it is no valid reason for GitLab to take down the whole GitLab pages of this software project.
  3. According to the README file of this project on GitLab, the feature of QR code scanning is similar to the ‘LeaveHomeSafe’ app. Again, it is hard to believe that it is a valid reason for GitLab to take it down.

I think:

  1. The people in Hong Kong do concern about their health and public health safety, but they have more doubts about their personal privacy and data which could be accessed by others. So, it is a trust issue between the citizen and their government. Releasing the source code (as an open source software) of the LeaveHomeSafe app is recommended.
  2. Moreover, in the open source approach, the Hong Kong government should allow any citizen to develop a software application to do contact tracing. The government can define the technical requirement (the QR code specification, the open data format of possible location and time visited by COVID-19 infected persons, and the basic requirements to trace). So any developer can develop an application for social purposes, and the government can list out approved applications that passed their examination.
  3. Public Money Public Code [2]: The open source approach lets the citizens to own the software (including the source code) purchased with the public money, and even cost saving or lower the cost.


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