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Bug#872867: is ISO-3166 really the optimal list for our users?

On Tue, Aug 22, 2017 at 11:02:27AM +0200, Daniel Pocock wrote:
> While it is good that we use material from official sources, Debian is
> independent of any state and may not need to feel constrained by such lists/
> standards in the same way that a commercial software vendor might be.

On the other hand, the advantage of having an official standard to point
to is that we can deflect complaints when they appear.

There are many areas in dispute in this world, and in some cases
deciding whether a particular area is or is not a country will result in
offending one or the other party. When Debian accidentally and
temporarily updated the representation of the countries in the installer
so that they would refer to the area sometimes referred to as the
"Republic of China", otherwise known as "Taiwan", in a particular way,
this offended one of our developers enough that he decided to leave the

While it may be true that the list of countries in ISO-3166 is decided
upon by a small number of people, presumably these people are aware of
all the peculiarities and policital sensitivies in deciding what is or
isn't a country, and what should or should not be allowed in a list of
countries. As such, deciding to use ISO-3166 as our base to decide on
which countries to list keeps Debian politically neutral in an area for
which we really have no expertise and in which we really should not get
ourselves involved one way or the other.

It may make sense to change the list of places so that it also includes
subdivisions, provided we do so in either a way which makes the
distinction between "country" and "subdivision" clear, or a way which
puts both in a singular list but which makes it clear that the list does
not refer to countries in any form or sort. Both solutions would allow
areas such as Kosovo to appear on the list of places, without offending
people who believe Kosovo should not be considered an independent nation
(yes, there are such people).

We should not, however, move away from ISO-3166 as our basis for
deciding what is or isn't a country, unless you can point to another
list which has the same level of international recognition as ISO-3166.
I don't think such a list exists, however.

If we continue to use the ISO-3611 list, then if any error in the list
of countries in our installer exists it will either be a bug in the
installer code (which we could obviously fix and apologise for,
hopefully without offending anyone), or a matter of "the list is
outdated" (which we would usually fix by rebuilding the installer,
hopefully also without offending anyone), or an error in the ISO-3611
list (in which case people might be offended, but the offending elements
would not be ours and we can tell them to get ISO to update the list
rather than to complain to us).

Debian is about Free Software; it is not about International Politics.
Let's keep it that way.

Could you people please use IRC like normal people?!?

  -- Amaya Rodrigo Sastre, trying to quiet down the buzz in the DebConf 2008

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