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Open Source Code And War 923

Posted by timothy
from the four-star-specific dept.
"Should Open Source developers help the U.S. prepare for war with Iraq?" Roblimo has a piece on NewsForge which addresses that question by showing a specific way that the U.S. military is using Free and Open Source software (in simulator-based training for Blackhawk helicopters), and letting one of the developers involved speak for himself. If software is Free, doesn't that already answer the question of who can use it?
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Open Source Code And War

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  • by SnowDeath (157414) <{peteguhl} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:43PM (#5388276) Homepage
    Now, if only they would distribute the software for the simulators or even run "Arcades" with networks of these thing setup, we could have 8 year old fighter veterans!
  • by Greger47 (516305) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:43PM (#5388281)

    Now the Iraqi pilots get get up to snuff in their large fleet of Blackhawk choppers using US simulators!
    • by knightinshiningarmor (653332) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:46PM (#5388317)
      "Mr. Hussein! We're running out of quarters for our helicopters!"
  • open (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:44PM (#5388289) Homepage
    What part of OPEN do you not understand?
    • Re:open (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cachorro (576097) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @03:22PM (#5388667)
      Should ___________ developers help the U.S. prepare for war... ...by showing a specific way that the U.S. military is using ___________...

      Fill in the blank with:

      Open Source software
      Toilet paper
      Footware
      Small arms
      Army cot
      Clothing ...

      Technology has no ethic.
      • Re:open (Score:5, Insightful)

        by GlassHeart (579618) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @04:14PM (#5389190) Journal
        Technology has no ethic.

        Yes, but engineers do. This is why security people usually notify vendors in advance of the publication of a new security hole, to give them a chance to fix things.

        There are also technologies that have no other purpose. You can argue that a nuclear warhead can someday deflect a meteor bound for earth, but the fact is that the Manhattan Project was launched for another specific purpose.

        Advocates like to say "guns don't kill people", and they are right to that extent. However, body armor piercing bullets have no other objective, because bears don't wear body armor.

        I'm not objecting to your point that many technologies are neutral. I'm also not commenting on the specific ethics of the examples I cite, rather just pointing out that they are not ethics neutral.

        • Re:open (Score:3, Insightful)

          by e2d2 (115622)
          Yes but what if the body armor is wore by gun touting armed robbers as was the case in Los Angeles a few years ago. In that case i think that body armor piercing bullets were used for the greater good by stopping the criminals, thereby protecting the average citizen.

          Even a weapon can be used in a "good" way depending on your view point. If you have a rock and the bad guy has a assault rifle to say you are in a very bad position would be an understatement. Now I am not advocating killing BUT I know for a fact that the world has bad people in it. Should we to simply stop providing the means to stop them because it involves very nasty things? To fight a devil you've got to be a devil yourself. The engineers know that a bomb can be used to both kill and protect, life is not black and white as some portray. Maybe if we could stop killing altogether it wouldn't be a problem, but that eutopian view goes upstream against the current of the primitive mind.

    • by Wee (17189) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @03:34PM (#5388764)
      Exactly. As long as people aren't violating the license, then when you put code out there, you have to expect it to be used in lots of ways.

      If a developer doesn't like war, then he better put that in the license. Short of that, he has nothing to complain about.

      -B

    • Re:open (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wdr1 (31310)
      This is one of the odder stories I've seen on Slashdot:

      1) Nobody actually submitted the story
      2) Nobody is actually seriously taking the position that the military shouldn't be able to use Open Source software. The wording of the story lead me to think that's what the interview would lead, but even he doesn't take that position.

      What gives?

      -Bill
      • Re:open (Score:3, Funny)

        by schulzdogg (165637)
        What gives?

        Slow news day + Newsforge needs some traffic.
      • Re:open (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DNS-and-BIND (461968)
        The unspoken assumption to most (all?) media stories is that the U.S. is bad, mmkay, and the U.S. military is worse, mmkay. Undoubtedly that was the unspoken subtext in this story.
  • by Xerithane (13482) <xerithane@@@nerdfarm...org> on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:45PM (#5388295) Homepage Journal
    Obviously, you have no claim as to what your software can and cannot be used for if you release it out into the world. Whether or not you believe the upcoming war with Iraq is justified or not, it doesn't stop the software they use from being used.

    This is a completely moot issue, but it is good for discussion I suppose. The thing that should not be seen is exclusion clauses from the GPL and other open source licenses. I would hate to see "This software may not be used for military purposes" because that will lead down a path that is more counter-productive. Would you rather have the military and government using open source software or Microsoft?

    Code audits are important when using software for military purposes, to ensure that everything is accurate. Whether it's personnel tracking, mission tracking, or simulation software, accuracy is important. Maybe my view is just tainted because I'm finding myself leaning more toward the pro-War campaign...
    • Would you rather have the military and government using open source software or Microsoft?

      Yeah, there's this smart bomb heading your way, and then suddenly, instead of killing you, you see the blue screen of death.
  • by Mustang Matt (133426) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:45PM (#5388300)
    Give me a break. Developers aren't helping the "U.S. go to war with Iraq" they're developing software. I'm sure terrorists somewhere have an apache webserver running, it's not like the "developers helped them become terrorists by giving them a tool to create a membership database."

    Software is software, open source software shouldn't try to control who uses it (other than stopping someone else for breaking the GPL) or for what purpose.
    • by jerryasher (151512) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @04:01PM (#5389059)
      As Declan McCullagh notes, Al Qaeda is known to use PGP. [insecure.org]

      Quotes from Zimmerman regarding developing technology that might be used by criminals and terrorists: [liquidtodd.com]

      What are your feelings about the fact that your tool can be used by people with intentions that are opposed to your original idea?

      I can't think at one way to make this technology available to everyone, without also making it available to criminals. I thought about it a lot. This has been the focus of the debate in the '90s: many cryptographers tried to think about the way to make this technology available to good people without making it available to bad people, but nobody could find a solution.

      Like the telephone?

      Yes. For example: after 11 September there were some speculations about the terrorists using some GPS technology. I don't think there is any evidence that they did, they were only speculations that I read in an article at that time. Well, if they did, they were applying technology directly to kill people. You know, it's difficult to fly a plane. It's difficult even to fly it to the airport, it's even more difficult to fly it against the World Trade Centre. It's not a normal path, it would help to have a GPS. This is just speculation. Anyway, the manufacturers could stop making GPS receivers. But what about the rest of us: we benefit from GPS receivers.

      By the way, the U.S. Military is not the bad guy here, and by no means do I want anyone to think that I feel that way. Should we go to war, it's our kids that will be the targets of bullets and most likely gas and bio shit, all because in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, our elected leaders sowed the seeds of discontent around the world, and ignored the crop.

      I hope our military uses whatever they can, however they can, legally. If you have a problem with the war, run for the PTA, the local council, state government, or federal government. Did you remember to vote?

  • by bmongar (230600) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:45PM (#5388301)
    *yawn*
    I don't want to write open source code becasue somebody may use it for evil.

    I won't want to work for a corporation because they may exploit someone.

    I don't want to sell hammers because someone could hit someone else with it.

    Let's face it. If you are doing anything at all productive in society somebody can use that to their benifit in a way that you may not agree with.
    • Funny how we will use open source software for war but not for our own voting system [counterpunch.org]
    • If you are doing anything at all productive in society somebody can use that to their benifit in a way that you may not agree with.

      I think this "all or nothing" argument is a cop out, a "reductio ad absurdum" excuse for people who can't or won't consider the potential ramifications of their actions in the world at large.

      Everyone, no matter what their position in society or what work they do, has a responsibility to consider how their actions affect other people both in the short and long term. We can no longer afford short-sighted short term thinking -- the earth is too small a place these days.

      Furthermore, this comment (and others) don't seem to be based on the content of the articles. (No, I am not new to slashdot! I just haven't let my standards sink to the lowest common denominator. Yet.) The anti-war link to the bluefish site in the original article is a discussion of whether or not to put an anti-war banner on the bluefish, not whether or not to develop code. Anthony L. Awtrey's remarks in the article presents his contrasting opinions in support of military action against Iraq, based in part on his wife's personal experience. Serious public discussion of these issues is what democracy is (supposed to be) all about.

      Maybe the prospect of a major war in the Middle East makes you *yawn* but I'm glad to see that not everyone shares this view.

  • Tongue in cheek, but is this a good thing for OS when blackhawks have been crashing a lot recently?
  • by jhouserizer (616566) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:46PM (#5388307) Homepage
    This leads to an interesting idea of Open Source licensing...

    Does anyone know of an OSS license that includes some statement to the effect of: "This software is free for use, redistribution, and modification by any entity for any purpose, as long as any form of it is never used for military purposes." ???

    • RMS has fought this issue many times, and pleaded people not to do this.
      It will become a mess if people start adding lines that match their own agendas. "People who kill cannot use this" "People who are gay.." "People who voted bush.." and so on.
    • by Johnny Mnemonic (176043) <mdinsmore.gmail@com> on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @03:01PM (#5388466) Homepage Journal

      Does anyone know of an OSS license that includes some statement to the effect of: "This software is free for use, redistribution, and modification by any entity for any purpose, as long as any form of it is never used for military purposes."

      No, and that's probably because such a clause would be impossible to define. For example, let's say such a clause was added to Apache.

      Would that mean that the Army couldn't host their website on Apache? Probably. Would that mean that Boeing couldn't host their website on Apache? They make both civilian and military products. What about steel importers, who don't know where their product goes? It is reasonable to consider that their product would be used in the war machine, but has significant peacetime uses as well.

      Bottom line: if you want to keep control of your code, and be able to dictate what is done with it, you need to keep it closed source. When you Open a door, you don't get to decide who walks in; that's the very reason that doors were invented in the first place.
  • Oh come on (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JSkills (69686) <jskillsNO@SPAMgoofball.com> on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:46PM (#5388316) Homepage Journal
    That's like saying you support Free Speech - except when you say something I don't agree with.

    Non-issue ...

  • by shokk (187512) <`ernieoporto' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:47PM (#5388320) Homepage Journal
    Although we can't perceive the use that code might have 100 years in the future (if any), developers should at least think about who might use their code when they make it open. Are there any licenses that restrict the military from using the code the way commercial entities are sometimes limited by certain licenses? Is it the place of the developer to show that bias? Does anyone really have the illusion that a government in North Korea or anywhere else is going to give a rat's ass about how a developer in Kansas wants his code used?

    I don't think this faults the developers at all. This is like making knives; you can eat with it or you can butcher with it. The responsibility is up to the user.
  • Freedom (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Apro+im (241275) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:48PM (#5388333) Homepage
    The problem with freedom - be it of speech or of software - is that you don't get to choose who you grant it to - otherwise it is no longer freedom.

    You can choose not to give it to your enemies, but what's to stop you from arbitrarily dciding that your enemies are everyone except a select few.

    There is always a responsibility that goes along with any project you work on - but it will get done with or without you. Ask Oppenheimer or Feynman or Einstein.
  • <i>Should Open Source developers help the U.S. prepare for war with Iraq?</i>
    Open source developper develop according to a licence. If certain uses are not ok with them, they can a licence like java, preventing usage where human life could be endangered (nuclear facilities, medical...).
    If they release free software, anybody is free to use and modify it.
    Now, placing restriction again use of software by some 'evil' organization, those organisations being, depending of the point of view, Osama bin Laden's crew, or Irak, or the US Army, is no longuer doing free software.
  • Software licenses (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JohnFluxx (413620) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:49PM (#5388346)
    In terms of software licenses, which doesn't fully cover the question, but..:

    RMS is very clear on this, and for those who don't agree with him (which seems to be the latest fad) many others have to.

    You should not keep let politics like this get in the way. There was a particular project that released there code under a license that was basically GPL'ed but with a line saying that it was not to be used by terrorists and not to be used to help kill people. RMS really disliked the license, and argued that such lines are impossible to define.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:50PM (#5388354)
    I just found some remarks by Eric S. Raymond on socially responsible programming [catb.org]. Very interesting.
  • by nebenfun (530284) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:50PM (#5388358)
    Closed and opensource software will both be used for good and evil....deal with it.

    Example:
    Opensource encryption software can be used to protect liberties and the prying eyes of big government. It can also be used to hide child porn or terrorist activities...
    should we abolish the encryption software just because it can be used for evil?

    I'd really hate to see a new modified license that restricts use of software based on political bias.
  • by PhxBlue (562201) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:51PM (#5388371) Homepage Journal

    The outcome of this war is certain. The only question is, how many Iraqis and how many Americans will die in the process? Good software is part of the key to preserving lives on both sides: the sooner the war ends, the fewer lives will be lost; and good software (along with good hardware and good training) will shorten the length of the war.

    Finally, consider that the work on government programs won't be used only in Iraq. That's just where we need it at the moment. Should the US find itself fighting North Korea, the same software and hardware and training is going to save lives there as well.

    I don't agree with the concept of invading Iraq. But I do believe in saving lives; and I think that contributing to government software efforts will help us toward that end.

    • I don't agree with the concept of invading Iraq.

      I don't want to go completely off-topic, but I'd like to know why not. I've been looking for somebody, anybody, who could convince me that war is not the best option in this situation. What's your argument?

      You don't have to respond here, but if you've got a minute, come post a reply in any of my journal articles. I'm really interested in hearing what you have to say.
    • I am soooo sick... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by siskbc (598067) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @03:38PM (#5388801) Homepage
      ...of people taking for a given that this war is bad because that's what "good liberals" think. I'm not necessarily saying it's a great idea, as I haven't really made up my mind - but mindlessly accepting pacifism is pretty stupid. Granted, peace is a better default position than war, but there are times where other avenues fail. And I'd say they've failed here. Saddaam is staying a step ahead of inspections thanks to delaying tactics (not to mention Germany and France).

      Not to mention which this won't be a war as we are used to thinking of them. Casualties in the Gulf War were very low, and I can't imagine this being much different. As you say, the military considers minimization of collateral damage to be a top priority. The concept of there being 100,000 civilian deaths (I've heard someone say it) is FUD.

      Not to mention which, programmers aren't experts on military matters. This is scarcely better than Susan Sarandon et al spouting off about the war. Yes, they have a right to free speech, but I'm not exactly going to let a moron actor change my views easily. Nor a programmer, just because he won't let the military use his crappy program.

  • by taliver (174409) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:51PM (#5388376)
    Ok, Apache-- open source.

    How many web sites are serving child porn use this as their server?

    How many IRC servers have anti-abortion protesters chatting about where to bomb or shoot next?

    How many emacs clients have been used to write threatening letters?

    Has email ever been used to perprate a crime of any kind?

    How many people point to encryption, and state that even the bad guys should be allowed to use it, so privacy is maintained?

    So, you disagree witha policy of the US, and now you're thinking about dropping the whole idea of free. How pleasant.
  • the twist (Score:4, Funny)

    by Joe the Lesser (533425) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:52PM (#5388387) Homepage Journal
    Is that the US sent leet programmers to train Iraqi's in Open Source warfare during the 80's, and now those renegade coders our the core of Iraq's amazing hax0ring abilities.
  • by fudgefactor7 (581449) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:53PM (#5388396)
    Ok, dudes, seriously. Come on! If you restrict the source, then it's not OPEN, and if you make something GPLed, then it's open not only now but forever: once GPL there is no returning to proprietary-land.

    Let's keep politics out of the code. "Once you go down that dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny...." or something like that.
  • by Cyno (85911) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @02:58PM (#5388439) Journal
    with my government using open source software to fight terrorists...

    as long as they...

    don't call me a terrorist.
  • by borkus (179118) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @03:04PM (#5388502) Homepage
    One of the things that struck me is how much Open Source is dependent on international development. Just off of the top of my head, Linux and Python were started outside of the US. Now, both are supported by developers around the world. Historically, nations have viewed techological advances as national resources, both out of national pride as well as national security. However, Open Source software is inherently borderless.

    This would appear to some to make Open Source a security risk, but it isn't necessarily so. To play in the open source game, you have to be a contributor. So you need to be a nation that develops people with strong technical skills and keeps them. You also have to allow those people access to other people around the world in order to share ideas.

    Saddam Hussein may get some benefit from Open Source, in that it gives him software that is free distributable. However, I would imagine it's rather difficult attracting and retaining technical talent in a regime as oppressive as his. In short, despots may be able to use Open Source software, but they'd have a hard time leveraging it fully without free and open communication with the rest of the world.

    It's also further proof of the interdependence of developed countries upon each other.
  • by miguel (7116) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @03:17PM (#5388629) Homepage
    I am against the killing of innocent civilians, and the military and the public relations for the military are experts in spinning massacres into `collateral damage' and `mistakes'.

    I have given a lot of thought about the issue of whether I want the military of any nation to use the software I create to mutilate the lives of other people. I obviously do not want this, and I would love to have a debate about having a software license that explicitly forbids this use.

    As the previous poster pointed out, once you go down this path, some people might not like X, or Y, and impose further restrictions, but this is not too different from where we are today.

    There is a line to be drawn, and I would very much like to hear people's opinions on what is an acceptable line to draw, and where to draw it.

    As you might expect, I consider the war being promoted against Iraq to be immoral. The spin for this war has gone through a number of phases, and it has yet to click. Alarming how easily the population can be manipulated through fear.

    Miguel.
  • open source and... (Score:5, Informative)

    by trb (8509) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @04:02PM (#5389068)
    Where are you going to draw the line? You don't like the USA military starting a war with Iraq. The next open source developer doesn't like baby-killing pro-choice people. The next one doesn't like privacy-invading anti-abortionists. The next one doesn't like Moslems, Jews, Hindus, capitalists, and so forth.

    A related quote, on the selective enforcement of laws:

    More: There is no law against that.

    Roper: There is! God's law!

    More: Then God can arrest him.

    Roper: Sophistication upon sophistication.

    More: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal.

    Roper: Then you set man's law above God's!

    More: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact - I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I'm a forrester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God....

    Alice: While you talk, he's gone!

    More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

    Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

    More" Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

    Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

    More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

    --Thomas Bolt, "A Man for all Seasons"

  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @04:10PM (#5389150)
    This isn't an issue limited to free software or even to software at all; it's a technology issue and, reduced to its bare essence, the question is whether an inventor is responsible for the use of his inventions.

    The question of intellectual property is entirely beside the point. I remember that, when downloading Oracle for Linux, I was required to fill out an HTML form affirming that I would not use the product for the development of nuclear weapons. Somehow, I have a hard time picturing Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Il saying, "Well, shit. I can't use Oracle for my clandestine nuclear program because of this license. I guess I'll have to use MySQL instead." The same is true of commercial software. Does anyone believe an export license (or for that matter, a licensing fee) would stop anyone from either purchasing a boxed copy in the US or Europe or just downloading a copy from alt.binaries.warez.ibm-pc? If you don't want your code to be misused, don't release it. If you release it, it eventually, inevitably will be misused.

    Several years ago, I completed work on a library and set of tools for textual- and communication-traffic analysis. Among the things you could do with the tools was determining authority relationships between people in an organization on the basis of the patterns of their email communications. Another interesting application, which I tested with a full non-binaries Usenet feed, was a surprisingly effective system for determining the political affiliation of posters on the basis of their non-political postings. (For the curious, I used a sample group of 1,000 posters who made consistent ideological posts to political newsgroups as well as non-political posts to non-political newsgroups.) The accuracy rate over a six month period approached 95%.

    Concluding that such code could be used by governments to track political dissidents, I was reluctant to release the code. Once John Ashcroft and John Poindexter appeared on the scene, I destroyed the source. This was probably pointless, as the algorithms being used are well-understood -- only the particular combination of algorithms was novel -- and the NSA probably has similar software written by much smarter guys than me, but when my own government, much less foreign tyrants, is arresting people without charges and holding them incommunicado in undisclosed locations, I didn't want to be responsible for contributing to the next round of political arrests.

    Contrary to what the above seems to imply, I don't think inventors ought to be held responsible for the misuse of their inventions. I do think that inventors ought to be held responsible for failing to consider the potential consequences of misuse, however. In my case, I decided the potential benefits were outweighed by the potential abuses and decided not to release. Ultimately, that's all you can do if you are concerned about abuses, for the simple reason that the people who are likely to abuse your code are not going to be stopped by legal fictions like the GPL, copyrights, patents, or anything less substantial than the barrel of a gun.

  • by LittleBigScript (618162) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @04:11PM (#5389161) Homepage Journal
    #include
    #include
    #include
    #include

    int main()
    {
    cout "Attack!" endl;

    while ((War==True) && (!Over_And_We_All_Go_Home_Heros))
    {
    Bomb();
    }

    return 0;
    } //Ok let's see if it will run without //War being declared...
  • by frozencesium (591780) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @05:20PM (#5389789) Journal
    First of all, as everyone else points out, it's a non-issue. The government will do what they want, the terrorists are more than likely using opensource encryption, etc...

    for the sake of argument, let's say you can ban the military from using open source. what about those linux clusters that help break "bad guy" encryption, or the clusters they use to similate any number of things including nuclear weapon blasts. would you rather we go back to dropping nuks on remote south pacific islands?

    how about this...i'm in the US Air Force. does that mean i can't run linux on all my machines in my dorm room? i know it's a stretch, but i do live on a military base and use my computers to contact people in my office regarding work (unclassified of course). couldn't that be taken as "use by the government"? what about a previous posters thought of saying "can't be downloaded for use by members of the military"?

    -frozen
  • Come on guys... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fnkmaster (89084) on Wednesday February 26, 2003 @07:26PM (#5390996)
    What part of Freedom are you misunderstanding? Freedom is a double-edged sword. Even RMS, who I'm sure isn't a flag waving patriot warmonger, would, I hope, argue that part of the Free in Freedom involves people who you don't like doing things you don't always approve of with your software. People can use software to train people who then kill people. People can use software to coordinate schedules and plan meetings to coordinate schedules and plan meetings about killing people. This is Freedom - they have the Freedom to do good or bad things with your software. If you are serious about Freedom in your software, you will accept this.


    If on the other hand, your software is a political platform for your views and you think that's more important than Free Software (or Open Source Software, depending on your leaning), then go ahead and add the restrictions. I won't use your software since I find software that pretends to be Free while throwing in lots of additional random restrictions to be much more distasteful than straightforward, honest commercial software.

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