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CONSEGI 2008 Declaration -- Open Letter to ISO Reveals More OOXML Issues
Monday, September 01 2008 @ 11:54 PM EDT

There is an unexpected reaction from major government IT agencies in six countries condemning the ISO/IEC refusal to act on the four appeals against OOXML, which they say "reflects poorly" on ISO/IEC. They have signed and sent an open letter to ISO, which I'll show you in full. The countries represented are South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Cuba. Here's a paragraph to give you a taste:
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.

How in the world can ISO/IEC claim that the OOXML approval has not been damaging to ISO/IEC's reputation now? Have you ever heard of such a thing?

Three of the signatories, South Africa, Brazil, and Venezuela, submitted appeals that were denied. South Africa's appeal included the grounds that are supposed to be sufficient for an appeal:

This appeal is made in accordance with Clause 11.1.2: "A P member of JTC 1 or an SC may appeal against any action, or inaction, on the part of JTC 1 or an SC when the P member considers that in such action or inaction:
- questions of principle are involved;
- the contents of a draft may be detrimental to the reputation of IEC or ISO; or
- the point giving rise to objection was not known to JTC 1 or SC during earlier discussions."
We believe that there is an important question of principle involved and that the reputation of ISO/IEC is indeed at stake. There has been speculation about the need to revise the directives around fast track processing. While such revision might indeed be necessary, we cannot accept the outcome of a process in which the existing directives have not, in our opinion, been applied.

Maybe that is part of what they mean about rules not being followed. Jomar Silva of Brazil, who attended the ballot resolution meeting and was the first to break "the law of silence" and tell the world how bad it was at the BRM, discusses this latest development, and he provides a link to the letter. Silva writes:

As far as I know, the countries that sent the appeals do not intend to appeal again, despite this be[ing] possible under the already broken JTC1 directives.

Thus, managers of the major IT governmental organizations in Brazil, Venezuela and South Africa wrote and co-signed an open letter to ISO, to express their dissatisfaction with the final result of this all.

The letter was also signed by managers of similar entities in Ecuador, Paraguay and Cuba, in a clear signal that this affected more people than I imagined.

Andy Updegrove provides some background:

The statement is titled the "CONSEGI 2008 Declaration," named for the South and Latin American government open source conference held in Brasilia, Brazil, at which the Declaration was signed. Those that attended included senior government officials, such as Brazil's Minister of Science and Technology, as well as representatives of the six nations that signed the declaration: Brazil, Cuba, Paraguay, South Africa and Venezuela.

In objecting to the dismissal of the earlier appeals, the Declaration notes, "That these concerns were not properly addressed....reflects poorly on the integrity" of ISO/IEC.

And here is the Open Letter:

************************************

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.

____________________________
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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