Reactions on the ISO voting procedures

By EDRi · September 12, 2007

The recent vote on the OOXML draft standard revealed a number of problems
with the ISO procedures, at national as well as international level.

The national procedures have been often accused of being influenced by
Microsoft, especially in Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Portugal, the
Netherlands, and the US.

Protests about Microsoft exerting improper influence on the results of the
vote have been made in Poland and Switzerland, the latter voting in favour
of OpenXML, despite the fact that the EDRI-member SIUG (Swiss Internet User
Group) has pointed out a number of irregularities in the voting process and
that a large number of Microsoft partner companies have joined the
standardization committee a short time before the debate.

An attempt to influence the Swedish vote was revealed by the open-source
community, when a leaked memo showed that Microsoft asked partners to
influence the vote but had also offered to pay them to do so. The memo from
Microsoft offered partners “marketing support” and “additional support in
the form of Microsoft resources” in return for joining the Swedish national

Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards at
Microsoft accepted the fact that the company was very active in promoting
the standard : “Government agencies and national standards bodies have
exercised their right to participate in this process, as have a number of
companies, including those opposed to and those in favour of Open XML.
Therefore, Microsoft has openly encouraged its partners to participate where
they have an interest.(…)Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that
a Microsoft employee in Sweden communicated with two partner companies about
their participation in the Open XML vote in a way that was inconsistent with
corporate policy and guidance. ”

In the end. the Swedish Standards Institute has revoked its decision in
favour of an endorsement of the OOXML as an ISO standard after receiving
information that one member had enlisted more than one vote.

An interesting study made by the EDRi-member Electronic Frontier Finland has
looked into these problems, including sudden interest from countries like
Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Côte-d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Lebanon and Malta to
the OOXML issue that was considered to be suspicious. “We studied the
relation between the corruption level and voting behaviours of the
countries. We found that more corrupted the country is, the more likely it
was to vote for the unreserved acceptance of the OOXML standard proposal. We
used the Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index as a
measure of corruption.”

Individual persons, such as blogger Andy Updegrove, criticised the voting
procedure, complaining on the “irregularities reported from some countries
have cast a shadow over the credibility of the ISO process. For the
standards organisation, it is therefore of particular importance to
demonstrate the validity and integrity of the final result, otherwise it
threatens to damage the whole system.”

An open letter to ISO from Geir Isene, CEO FreeCode International, points
out many of the problems encountered during the process : “The fact that ISO
enforces no standard for national bodies opens the standardization process
for manipulation or corruption.(…) I strongly urge ISO to adopt a strict
policy for its members detailing the rules for how a national body shall
determine its vote in ISO and that it enforces such policy vigorously.”
Irsene also suggests that “within the field of IT, ISO would greatly
benefit from adopting the IETF requirement of two independent reference
implementations for passing a standard. This should increase the quality of
ISO’s IT standards.”

The result of the closed-door ISO process called to action. Norbert Bollow
has set up, a truly open international standards organization,
where all work documents will be made freely available to everyone via the
Internet and decisions between conflicting opinions or interests should
always be made in a fact-oriented manner based on sound engineering and
openness principles.

Microsoft accused of rigging OOXML votes (30.08.2007),1000000121,39288959,00.htm?r=1

SIUG Resources related to MS-OOXML

Swedish Standards Institute declares Open XML vote void (31.08.2007)

Corrupt countries were more likely to support the OOXML document format

Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed

An Open Letter to ISO (7.09.2007)