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The CONSEGI 2008 Declaration: Six Nations "Just Say No" to ISO/IEC

Standards and Society

The latest blowback from the OOXML adoption process emerged last Friday in Brasilia, Brazil.  This newest challenge to the continued relevance of ISO and IEC was thrown when major IT agencies of six nations - Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, South Africa and Venezuela - signed a declaration that deploring the refusal of ISO and IEC to further review the appeals submitted by the National Bodies of four nations.  Those nations were Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela, and the statement is titled the CONSEGI 2008 Declaration, after the conference at which it was delivered.  The Declaration notes, "That these concerns were not properly addressed in the form of a conciliation panel reflects poorly on the integrity of these international standards development institutions," and concludes, "Whereas in the past it has been assumed that an ISO/IEC standard should automatically be considered for use within government, clearly this position no longer stands."

The decision to make the statement flows in part from the fact that the National Bodies of each of the four countries that had filed appeals have decided that it would  be fruitless to further press their formal protests.  This has left government IT agencies with no choice but to reconsider what, if anything, the adoption of a standard by ISO/IEC JTC 1 should mean to them when they make standards-based decisions. The statement indicates that ISO and IEC have underestimated the possible consequences of not taking the appeals more seriously, and states in part:

The issues which emerged over the past year have placed all of us at a difficult crossroads. Given the organisation's inability to follow its own rules we are no longer confident that ISO/IEC will be capable of transforming itself into the open and vendor-neutral standards setting organisation which is such an urgent requirement. What is now clear is that we will have to, albeit reluctantly, re-evaluate our assessment of ISO/IEC, particularly in its relevance to our various national government interoperability frameworks.

The combined statement is but the latest in a series of explosions (another is the Hague Declaration) that continue to reverberate around the standards world as a result of the hard pressed, highly contested, and commercially significant prosecution of Microsoft's Office Open XML specification through the formal standard setting process.  With the grinding to a close of that process, it has become clear that we are witnessing a watershed event that will transcend the significance of the specifications in question, and will reshape the way in which standards are regarded by governments and society in the future, and the ways in which they will give permission for those standards to be developed and approved.

Here are the details on this latest development, as conveyed to me by several of those involved in creating the statement.
  As usual, the complete text of the Declaration is included at the end of the post for archival purposes.

The statement was released at the close of CONSEGI 2008, a major South and Latin American IT conference focusing on free software, and convened by the International Congress of Electronic Society and Government.  The conference reportedly attracted 2000 registrants, including many senior government officials, including Brazil's Minister of Science and Technology.  The free program included many workshops on open source migration in areas such as education, government and development, as well as a focus on how information technology can be used to increase transparency between the governors and the governed, and to promote democracy.

This connection between the deployment of IT in government and the development of standards is one that ISO and IEC either fail to understand or refuse to regard as a matter for their concern.  Instead, the two dominant de jure IT bodies have consistently stated that their remit is purely to provide a venue within which national representatives can agree upon standards, rather than a place within which undue vendor influence can be avoided or (even) technical quality can be guaranteed.  Increasingly, countries such as those that have signed this declaration are concluding that the ISO and IEC are either unwilling, or unable (or both) to guarantee process purity.

In fact, governments throughout the world are becoming increasingly aware of the essential role that information and communications technology (ICT) standards must play in preserving what I have called our "Civil ICT Rights."  Those rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom to interact with government - all of which are increasingly exercised not in the real, but in the virtual world - or not at all.  If (for example) the cost of desktop is too great, or the necessary software is too unaccommodating to those with disabilities, then vital freedoms that people have fought and died to secure may be carelessly compromised or lost. 

Governments around the world are busy crafting "interoperability frameworks" to streamline the operation, efficiency and transparency of governments.  They are also now realizing that there are certain "Civil ITC Standards" - such as document formats and accessibility standards - that are essential to make these frameworks work.  What happened in the course of the OOXML adoption process has left such governments shaken by the realization that the type of democratic involvement and protection from undue vendor influence that should accompany the development of such standards, and ensure their free, unfettered use, cannot be delivered by the same systems that they have relied on in the past.

Specifically, the Declaration calls out these perceived failings:

  1. The bending of the rules to facilitate the fast track processing of DIS29500 [OOXML] remains a significant concern to us. That the ISO TMB did not deem it necessary to properly explore the substance of the appeals must, of necessity, put confidence in those institutions ability to meet our national requirements into question.

  2. The overlap of subject matter with the existing ISO/IEC26300 (Open Document Format) standard remains an area of concern. Many of our countries have made substantial commitments to the use of ISO/IEC26300, not least because it was published as an ISO standard in 2006.

  3. The large scale adoption of a standard for office document formats is a long and expensive exercise, with multi-year projects being undertaken in each of our countries. Many of us have dedicated significant time and resources to this effort. For example, in Brazil, the process of translation of ISO/IEC26300 into Portuguese has taken over a year.

Up until now, representatives of the traditional system have often dismissed criticism of the OOXML process as being simply the noise making of FOSS advocates that don't understand how standards are developed or of those controlled by interested vendors.  But this was never the case.  ISO/IEC would be well advised to take this latest declaration seriously, as the words of the Declaration are also being followed by aggressive action - at the governmental agency level - in several of the countries that signed the Declaration, and in others as well. 

As significantly, there are serious discussions ongoing in a number of quarters that may result in the formation of new organizations to provide the market needs that ISO and IEC are apparently unwilling to provide.  I will report in detail on several of these initiatives in the months ahead.  Clearly, as the CONSEGI 2008 Declaration makes clear, any such organization will find a welcome audience with those governments that have "reluctantly" or otherwise, concluded that ISO and IEC are no longer interested in meeting their needs.

Thanks to Aslam Raffee, one of the signers of the Declaration (he is the Chairman of the South African Government IT Officer’s Council Working Group on Open Standards Open Source Software), who first brought it to my attention and was the first to post the text to the Web.  You can find his entry here.

 

 

CONSEGI 2008 DECLARATION

 

We, the undersigned representatives of state IT organisations from Brazil, South Africa, Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Paraguay, note with disappointment the press release from ISO/IEC/JTC-1 of 20 August regarding the appeals registered by the national bodies of Brazil, South Africa, India and Venezuela. Our national bodies, together with India, had independently raised a number of serious concerns about the process surrounding the fast track approval of DIS29500. That those concerns were not properly addressed in the form of a conciliation panel reflects poorly on the integrity of these international standards development institutions.

Whereas we do not intend to waste any more resources on lobbying our national bodies to pursue the appeals further, we feel it is important to make the following points clear:

  1. The bending of the rules to facilitate the fast track processing of DIS29500 remains a significant concern to us. That the ISO TMB did not deem it necessary to properly explore the substance of the appeals must, of necessity, put confidence in those institutions ability to meet our national requirements into question.

  2. The overlap of subject matter with the existing ISO/IEC26300 (Open Document Format) standard remains an area of concern. Many of our countries have made substantial commitments to the use of ISO/IEC26300, not least because it was published as an ISO standard in 2006.

  3. The large scale adoption of a standard for office document formats is a long and expensive exercise, with multi-year projects being undertaken in each of our countries. Many of us have dedicated significant time and resources to this effort. For example, in Brazil, the process of translation of ISO/IEC26300 into Portuguese has taken over a year.

The issues which emerged over the past year have placed all of us at a difficult crossroads. Given the organisation's inability to follow its own rules we are no longer confident that ISO/IEC will be capable of transforming itself into the open and vendor-neutral standards setting organisation which is such an urgent requirement. What is now clear is that we will have to, albeit reluctantly, re-evaluate our assessment of ISO/IEC, particularly in its relevance to our various national government interoperability frameworks. Whereas in the past it has been assumed that an ISO/IEC standard should automatically be considered for use within government, clearly this position no longer stands.

Signed:

 

Aslam Raffee (South Africa)

Chairman, Government IT Officer's Council Working Group on Open Standards Open Source Software

 

Marcos Vinicius Ferreira Mazoni (Brazil)

Presidente, Servico Federal de Processamento de Dados

 

Carlos Eloy Figueira (Venezuela)

President, Centro Nacional de Tecnologías de Información

 

Eduardo Alvear Simba (Ecuador)

Director de Software Libre, Presidencia de la República

 

 

Tomas Ariel Duarte C. (Paraguay)

Director de Informática, Presidencia de la República

 

Miriam Valdés Abreu (Cuba)

Directora de Análisis, Oficina para la Informatización.

 

 

 

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The CONSEGI 2008 Declaration: Six Nations "Just Say No" to ISO/IEC | 35 comments | Create New Account
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The CONSEGI 2008 Declaration: Governments Question ISO/IEC's Future Relevance
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, September 01 2008 @ 01:33 PM CDT
So what do we do in the Western world ?

I'm a UK-based professional engineer.

It does my children no favours when their schools teach them "Microsoft Office" skills, to the exclusion of standards-based skills such as POSIX, TCP/IP, ISO26300. Standards-based as well would be nice; in every year group.

But equally, I don't have the time to commit to assisting with 'technology in schools' ... I have a day job as a commercial engineer. And I don't have the ability to face the possible commercial consequences to me or to the school of deploying Linux and OpenOffice. My employer will face the commercial consequences, but he will only take on liability by contract; and you have to agree terms and prices with him or his salesmen. Not with his engineers.

Where next ? As you can see, I view this 'Microsoft Monopoly' as destructive, as having lived beyond its usefulness. But what to do about it ? Not for me, but for the next generation.
[ # ]
The CONSEGI 2008 Declaration: Six Nations "Just Say No" to ISO/IEC
Authored by: Andy Updegrove on Monday, September 01 2008 @ 02:21 PM CDT

Thanks for letting me know, Alan.  I just upgraded Mozilla, and for some reason Geeklog doesn't seem to like it; it seems to have rejected all of the links I input using the Geeklog toolbar.  Now their fixed.

  -  Andy

[ # ]
Cuba and Venezuela hurt the case
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, September 01 2008 @ 08:03 PM CDT
This protest is good news, and thanks for reporting on it.

The four countries that appealed the ISO process acted properly and in the best interests of all of us. It is unfortunate that not many other nations joined them.

However, Cuba and Venezuela adding their signatures to this protest weakens the case for open standards. These two dictatorships make no pretense of representing the will of their respective populations, nor are they in any way accountable to their peoples. It is obvious that they just jumped on the bandwagon to take the opportunity to slap the West in the face (viewing closed standards and Microsoft as symbols of the USA). An act of propaganda, not a principled act of support for open standards, and OOXML supporters will correctly pick up on this quickly.

Despite this, the positive action of appeal by the standards bodies of four nations bodes well for us all.
[ # ]
  • Shamefull comment - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 04 2008 @ 02:42 PM CDT
The CONSEGI 2008 Declaration: Six Nations "Just Say No" to ISO/IEC
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, September 01 2008 @ 08:25 PM CDT
It would be good to find out what is going on inside ISO and IEC that has caused them to fumble OOXML so badly.  I bet a number of their staff  read this blog. I would like put out a plea that someone on the inside anonymously publish something on the web to let us know what has been going on.
[ # ]
The CONSEGI 2008 Declaration -- Time for a new International Standards body
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, September 01 2008 @ 09:59 PM CDT
I am encouraged by the CONSEGI 2008 Declaration. At the beginning of this fiasco, this joke of an approval process, I recommended dropping reliance on ISO/IEC. Start a new standards body. Of course it is an enormous undertaking, but if several nations would bond together, I was sure others would join. Now I'm certain others would join.

I know others felt the same way and I had seen comments to prove that. And we all have been criticized for it.

We do not suggest this action without an awareness of the huge undertaking that it would be. But I believe it is possible to begin with a hybrid of standards. The standards introduced before OOXML (let's refer to that point in time as "BO" because it seems so appropriate) can be considered valid. But now we draw a line in the sand and establish a new process and consequently a new set of standards for the technical realm.

The countries that have been bought off by Microsoft will expose themselves to be their lackies. The countries that have a passion for real standards that are arrived at via a fair and impartial process will blaze the trail. As the OSS community continues to grow, this new standards group's opinions will increase in value and relevance.

We no longer can afford to allow ourselves to be constrained by some profiteering dinosaur software monopoly. The emerging economies of the world need an environment that enables them and does not set them up as new source of revenue for an organization whose business has been expanded by lies, deception, unbridled greed, and a never-ending lust for power.

It's time for nations to come together to drive a steak through the heart of the monster that holds them all hostage. A new standards organization will send a clear message that discontent is at an all-time high and drastic measures have become reasonable alternatives. I believe that, if invited, other businesses of the world would be interested in joining the effort.

But my guess is that as soon as there is valid interest demonstrated in this idea, ISO/IEC will approach someone to discuss what has happened. Once that happens, the only reasonable return to what was is to ask for an immediate withdrawal of OOXML, the resignation of all ISO personnel involved in this monstrous waste of time and money, and an immediate review and ammendment of the now known-to-be-broken process.

Again, I say this is not easy. Not by a long shot. But how easy is it to simply stand by while a large commercial organization bullys an international standards body into doing its bidding? If this action is left to stand, how fair and balanced will future standards be? If Microsoft is allowed to get away with this, who will try it next?
[ # ]
The CONSEGI 2008 Declaration: Six Nations "Just Say No" to ISO/IEC
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 18 2008 @ 09:38 AM CDT
Winter: And we are all better off now that OOXML is an ISO standard?

Yes.

* We have a lot more information on what Office produces. This is useful for people like me who write converters between formats for a living, for ODF 1.3 development, and for people implementing office systems indepdentantly of whether they implement IS29500.  People are more realistic about the limitations of the standards and their feature sets.

* Microsoft is at the table, where it wasn't before. Many problems with the documentation of OOXML have been found and many fixed, in particular several issues where clearly there was a logjam or deafspot in MS that was effectively preventing fixes, and where the scrutiny and horse-trading may have provided a circuit-breaker. MS is more aware of some shortcomings in their formats or features than they were.  MS has given substantial IPR concessions, more than many people predicted. And flowing on there have been many other related specs released into public view.

* The ODF momentum is continuing utterly independently of the standardization of OOXML too. But the ODF people are more on their toes, and similarly are more aware of the shortcomings in their format and features. 


Cheers
Rick Jelliffe
[ # ]
The CONSEGI 2008 Declaration: Six Nations "Just Say No" to ISO/IEC
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 18 2008 @ 09:41 AM CDT
Winter wrote: "Where? You claim everywhere that I accuse MS of bribery. I don't. Saying that an MS partner earns it's money through MS is nothing like bribery. So please, point out where I
accused MS of bribery. However, you simply use these bogus counter-accusations to ignore all my other arguments.

Oh, I apologize. You used the word 'corruption'. Very different...

Cheers
Rick Jelliffe
[ # ]
The CONSEGI 2008 Declaration: Six Nations "Just Say No" to ISO/IEC
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, September 22 2008 @ 06:57 AM CDT
"It was interested to see the info on the last minute arrival to the Swedish committee by anti-OOXML-ers: I guess it is only a bad thing if the other team does it.   They 'stack'; we 'balance'?"

Seven of the newcomers was recruited by the regular members of the Swedish NB to balance 7 gold partners from Microsoft that did register the day before the vote. The rest of the gold partners appeared at the doorstep with cash. If you equal the behaviors you are the words greatest hypocrite.

More interesting, how come that you was not aware of this fact?

You spend ages telling us about no proven corruption in OOXML disaster, but we now learn that you have not bothered to look up any details at all. How can dismiss this event as not being proof if you have not even bothered to find out what really happened?

(Of course I know the answer...you have dismissed the idea that every individual in ISO and NBs are corrupt and not that there were extensive corruption. Your usual tactics of ignoring the context of the question when you answer...)
[ # ]
  • Voting machines - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, September 23 2008 @ 12:29 AM CDT
The CONSEGI 2008 Declaration: Six Nations "Just Say No" to ISO/IEC
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 19 2008 @ 12:23 AM CDT
> Winter wrote: This is the only quote where I used the word 'corruption' (search for 'corrupt'):
> "(no, this is not corruption. These people are either employees of MS or MS partners who
> earn almost all of their money from MS)"

> But you never look at the context, so I can understand that you cannot be bothered to mention
> that the word 'not' preceded the word 'corruption'.

1) You raised corruption. Why mention it at all, if not to keep the idea in currency?

2) Your first sentence is clearly sarcastic, in the light of the second sentence which implies the
opposite. 'Brutus in an honorable man'

> Very illustrative.
Yes.

I get the impression what Winter calls "context" is what I would call "the quasi-conspiracy theory through
which all information must be filtered and squeezed."    Indeed, I don't provide *that* context, because it
is nutty, and I don't apologize for not.  (Of course, now Winter will come back in a few months time and
say 'Rick admits he  doesn't provide all the context!'  But I am not someone to judge another person's
hobby.)

I wonder what is the difference between standardizing PDF and standardizing OOXML? -- Both
products from single technical traditions, both by market dominators, both large US corporations,
both with a bad history of incomplete documentation, both standardized through external bodies with
a view to compatibility with existing applications, and a history of anti-competitive licensing and
so on;   but I cannot recall a single anti-OOXML person using any of these reasons which they use
against OOXML against  ISO PDF. Instead, they recognize standardization has merits: to document,
to QA, to profile, to open the IP, to get review, to provide extra forums for interaction by stakeholders,
to give national bodies a seat at the table,  to bump the requirements axis for future developments,
to provide more information, to reduce tactical 'spoiling' innovation, and so on.

Cheers
Rick Jelliffe
[ # ]
  • I rest my case - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 19 2008 @ 02:09 AM CDT