Some programming languages are so bad, so dangerous, that the full weight of the US federal government must be brought to bear on ending their use. That's the premise of a petition now seeking signatures at the "We the People" section of the White House website.
The petition, entered on the site March 16, 2016, asks the government to, "Outlaw programming languages that threaten the safety of the American people and work counter to our way of life." The petitioner is even kind enough to provide examples of these evil and dangerous languages.
Earlier in March I wrote an article on programming languages to future-proof your portfolio. Not surprisingly, there was a discussion about my general understanding of the world following its publication, and one member of the InformationWeek community -- TerryB -- called out scripting languages as a problem, writing, "The fact things like Python and PHP, and to lesser degree, Perl are showing up go a long way to explain why many web apps are as secure as a 1940 outhouse."
The structural problem the petition (and our community member) call out is that scripting languages are almost always interpreted. That is, they're converted from the language you can look at into the language of the computer when the program is executed rather than when the program is prepared for distribution. That makes the program quite flexible, but it also means that the server-side applications that accept input from scripts must be somewhat flexible, as well. That run-time flexibility (along with some of the input methods allowed) are why people doubt the security of Ruby. It's interpreted, it's client-oriented, and it's flexible. And in that flexibility lies the seeds of vulnerability.
So what we have is a petition to outlaw languages that, if used badly, might lead to security problems in critical infrastructure. Before I get to the end, let me talk about Java for a moment.
So should you run out and add your name to the petition? Your right to do so is written into the Constitution. I'm not a fan of this one, though, for several reasons. The first is that I just don't believe we should go around outlawing everything that might be dangerous. Call me a latent Libertarian if you must, but I'd rather see us develop good programming habits than have languages outlawed.
It's possible this is a very silly petition that is getting just about the level of response it deserves. While it would be fun to see the executive branch weigh in on the political nuances of Ruby, I don't really want to see the government (ours or any other) deciding the legality of programming languages. So let's have a good discussion about tools and their best use and leave the legislation to more important matters like why "Angry Beavers" hasn't been recognized as the cultural treasure it is. I think I'll start a petition...