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A Reminder: ISO's Code of Ethics & What Happens Next - Update: Venezuela Appeals Also
Monday, June 02 2008 @ 02:41 AM EDT

Now that there have been at least three official appeals filed against OOXML, by South Africa, Brazil and India, as well as a letter of protest from a participant entity at the BRM over the way matters were handled in Denmark, I thought this might be an excellent time to take a moment and remind ISO of its published Code of Ethics [PDF]. Here's just a bit of it, some words to live by, or at least words I hope they will live by, as they decide what to do with the appeals. And then some information on what happens next.

Update: ZDNET's Tom Espiner reports that Venezuela has also filed an appeal:

"After the two-month appeal period, we now have four appeals — Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela," Jonathan Buck, the director of communications for IEC, told ZDNet.co.uk on Monday. "The appeals are now with our CEOs, IEC General Secretary Ronnie Amit, and ISO Secretary General Alan Bryden, who have a 30-day period to make sure appeals conform to directives."
Hilarious. Why should that be the ruler's edge? No one else seems to conform to the directives. It's why they are appealing. More details from Peter Sayer at PC World.

Here's the section of the Code of Ethics that struck me as most relevant, with some vital bits highlighted:
As providers of solutions to business, government and society, ISO and its members recognize that it is imperative to conduct activities in an ethical manner that deserves the confidence of all parties involved in standardization and of the general public. Each ISO member and each of ISO’s organizational entities, including its technical and governance bodies and core support functions, are expected to act in accordance with this Code of ethics and to promote adherence to the values of ISO by other organizations and individuals participating in the ISO standardization system....

ISO members are committed to developing globally relevant International Standards by:

ensuring fair and responsive application of the principles of due process, transparency, openness, impartiality and voluntary nature of standardization by:

  • organizing national input in a timely and effective manner, taking into account all relevant interests at national level;
  • taking appropriate measures to facilitate the participation of consumers and other affected parties from civil society, SMEs and public authorities.

ISO parties are committed to:

making their best endeavours to contribute to ISO’s consensus-building mechanisms, coherence and global relevance by:

  • applying ISO’s authorized procedures properly and diligently;
  • preventing conflicts of interest by communicating in a fair and transparent manner to interested parties when work on new standards is initiated and subsequently on the progress of their development, ensuring that market needs are the driver for the development of standards.

Have they lived up to these goals, would you say? It never hurts to get back to core values. And now that they must decide what to do about the appeals and the letter of protest, all of which raise issues covered exactly by the Code of Ethics by my reading, one can only hope that they will reflect on how important those core values are when it comes to ISO's reputation.

What happens next? Andy Updegrove explains the steps:

Here's how the actual rules under the Directives for handling appeals describe the process:
11.2.2 Upon receipt, the JTC 1 Secretariat shall advise all its P-members of the appeal, and take immediate action, by correspondence or at a meeting, to consider and decide on the appeal, consulting the Secretaries-General in the process.
"Upon receipt" appears to have been interpreted as "after the deadline has passed." Presumably the three NBs involved will now be contacted.
11.2.3 If JTC 1 supports the SC, the P-member who initiated the appeal may either
  • Accept the JTC 1 decision, or
  • Appeal against it.
"Supports the SC" here presumably means that if the Secretaries-General (the "CEOs" referred to by the IEC spokesman) are of the opinion that the appeals do not justify the action(s) requested in the appeals. Given that there have been three appeals, two of which only partially overlap in their objections, and the third of which has not yet been disclosed, there are a variety of possible permutations which may occur entering and exiting this step.
11.3.3 The Secretaries-General shall, following whatever consultations they deem appropriate, refer the appeal together with their comments to the TMB/SMB within one month after receipt of the appeal.
This is in alignment with the spokesman's comments, as quoted in the IDG story.
11.3.4 The TMB/SMB shall decide whether an appeal shall be further processed or not. If the decision is in favour of proceeding, the Chairmen of the TMB/SMB shall form a conciliation panel (see 9.2). The conciliation panel shall hear the appeal and attempt to resolve the difference of opinion as soon as practicable. If the conciliation panel is unsuccessful in its endeavours, it shall so report within three months to the Secretaries-General, giving its recommendations on how the matter should be settled.

... all of which comes down to this:

As with the other rules that have been at issue in the OOXML Fast Track process thus far, those that will apply here are superficially rational - but also superficial, when it comes to detail. As has consistently been the case to date, that means that a great deal is left to the discretion to those in the ISO/IEC hierarchy. What this means is that ultimate control of the resolution remains in the hands of the same individuals, and their colleagues, that made or approved, the decisions in the first instance upon which the appeals are based.

Or in plainer English, they very same folks who brought you OOXML will decide if they did a good job.

OOXML, the apparently unusable standard that not only we, the public, are not allowed to see, but National Bodies have yet to see, despite a set deadline in the rules for them to have it in hand. How odd that it would not be published prior to the deadline for appeals to be filed. Does that mean the deadline isn't really the deadline, since other so-called deadlines have proven so squishy? I don't know, but it makes logical sense that it's unreasonable to expect appeals to be filed regarding a format whose final draft folks haven't seen.

Update 4: Peter Sayer's account of the Venezuela appeal includes the information that the deadline is in fact being broadly interpreted:

On Friday, IEC spokesman Jonathan Buck said: "By the deadline last night, we had received three appeals, from Brazil, India and South Africa."

By Monday, though, the IEC had relaxed its interpretation of the directive: Venezuela's appeal, although filed after May 29, "was filed within the two months of the BRM [ballot resolution meeting] closing so that it is being accepted. (The BRM closed on 29 March 2008 so the interpretation is that the last calendar day of May is being applied)," Buck wrote in an e-mail.

The IEC had already decided to accept Brazil's appeal, which was filed on time but addressed to the chair of JTC 1 rather than to the secretaries general of the IEC and ISO as rules require.

Hence, a reminder of the stated principles in ISO's Code of Ethics about due process and transparency, as well as a reminder that the whole world is watching.

Update: We have the official English translation of the Danish letter [PDF]. The grounds of the complaint are:

  1. Microsoft's Office formats hinder interoperability
  2. XML forms are lacking
  3. The complete specifications text is still not ready
  4. Contradictory formulations
  5. The maintenance of DIS 29500 is not in place

Hinders interoperability! Here's the entire letter:

ISO
att: Vice-President Jacob Holmblad
[address]

Copenhagen, 30th May 2008

Complaint regarding the certification procedure in Danish Standards

Dear Jacob Holmblad

The Danish Open Source Businsess Association hereby submits a formal complaint regarding the certification procedures after the meetings in Danish Standards committee S-445 (previously S-142/U34) as well as the decision to change the Danish vote to a yes in connection with the treatment of DIS 29500. I write to you in your position as Vice-President for ISO,secondly as CEO for Danish Standards.

The Danish Open Source Business Association informed Danish Standards in a letter of March 22 2008 that the Danish requirements to DIS29500 have not been met. We summarized our points of views in the following five main points:

1. Microsoft's Office formats hinder interoperability
2. XML forms are missing
3. The complete specifications text is still not ready
4. Contradictory formulations
5. The maintenance of DIS29500 is not in place

I would also like to point out that after the round of hearings during the summer of 2007, agreement had been reached in the committee to formulate 168 change proposals and on this basis recommended a "No with comments". In order to change this position, according to Danish Standard's rules, there had to be a consensus in the committee. Furthermore, according to ISO's regulations, the complete specification must be ready at the latest 30 days after the BRM, so that the committee can consult the specification in order to verify to what extent the Danish technical objections were accommodated.

The discussion on the meeting March 26 was based on the unfinished specifications draft and on editorial notes from the BRM. This was far from sufficient to assure the committee that the 168 change proposals had been accommodated. Therefore, as you know, there was a great deal of disagreement during the meeting. Quite simply, we discussed specifications that did not yet exist.

Two months after Danish Standards announced the changed vote, we note that:

  • There never has been agreement in the committee regarding whether the Danish requirements were met
  • The five main points in our letter 22 March 2008 have still not been solved
  • The specification is still not ready, so that we can make certain that the change proposals have been incorporated

On this basis, the Danish Open Source Business Association ascertains that the procedures and the decision conflict with ISO's rules, and the process has caused considerable damage to the reputations of Danish Standards and ISO.

It is highly unusual that there are still no combined specifications, and I would like to bring to your attention the fact that Deputy Director of Danish Standards, Jesper Jerlang, in Danish Computerworld on May 22 admits that ISO's rules have been broken because Danish Standards has not received the final specifications. This is stated in section 13.12 in ISO's JTC 1 directive, which states:

"In not more than one month after the ballot resolution group meeting the SC Secretariat shall distribute the final report of the meeting and final DIS text in case of acceptance."

The process has thus been formally annulled now for 2 months -- since March 29, at which time the specifications should have been sent to the national standardization organizations. The prerequisites for the fast-track procedure no longer exist, and, therefore, I expect that ISO recommence the case.

I also expect that Danish Standards will inform ISO that it wishes ISO to recommence the case. The legitimacy of an ISO standard can only be sustained, when the certification process and foundation can not be called in question. An over-hasty, and therefore probably incorrect completion of one standard can bring other standards and the very system of standards in discredit.

Kind regards

Morten Kjærsgaard
Chairman of OSL


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