Wikileaks: Microsoft Tunis Government Deal: Surveillance, Corruption & Stifling Open Source

5 Sep, 2011

A US diplomatic Cabal classified as “C O N F I D E N T I A L” and sent from the American embassy in Tunis published on Wikileaks this week, disclose some details of the agreement between Microsoft and ousted regime of Zain Al Abdin Bin Ali which was signed in July 2006, Microsoft did not disclose the full details of the agrement but the cable provides from information. In a meeting with US embassy staff Microsoft Tunisia Director General Salwa Smaoui provided an overview of the main points in the agreement.

Stifling Open Source:

The cables stats that the government of Tunis agreed to buy 12,000 licensees to update government computers with official Microsoft software, and that future Tunisian government tenders for IT equipment will specify that the equipment must be Microsoft compatible which is prohibited by Tunisian open source policy.

Since 2001, the government of Tunisia adopted an open software policy, using only free software programs., Smaoui stated that reaching an agreement was “vital” for Microsoft. “The fact that the government relied on open source software drastically limited business in Tunisia and prevented Microsoft from participating in GOT tenders.” the cables says. Former Youth Minister Slim Amamou in post revolution Tunis
said over Twitter that Microsoft corrupts the Tunisian government and has destroyed national open source strategy.  ( Slim did not reply to our email)

On Microsoft involvement in corruption, the cables stats the negotiations for the deal took 5 years. Smaoui stated that the goverment of Tunisia “wanted a “tailor-made” agreement, rather than a prepackaged program that would be “imposed” on Tunisia.”

Microsoft has also agreed to provide training to handicapped Tunisians to enable them to seek employment in the IT sector by telecommuting. The cable notes that President Ben Ali’s wife Leila Ben Ali runs a charity for handicapped Tunisians. it comments “Even as the goal of expanding employment opportunities for handicapped Tunisians is worthy, the program’s affiliation with Leila Ben Ali’s charity is indicative of the backroom maneuvering sometimes required to finalize a deal. “

Leila Bin Ali and her husband the ex president of Tunisia was found guilty of theft’ in January by a post revolution Tunisian court.

Monitoring citizens:
Microsoft also agreed to provide training to repressive Tunisian law enforcement officers “Through a program on cyber criminality, Microsoft will train government officials in the Ministries of Justice and Interior “ Microsoft agreed to hand over its source code “ As part of this program, Microsoft will provide the GOT with original source codes for its programs.”

Embassy officials told Washington “ Microsoft’s resistance to fully disclose the details of the agreement further highlights the GOT emphasis on secrecy over transparency. “ and that there is a risk of that training could be used to monitor and suppress the general public. “In theory, increasing GOT (government of Tunis) law enforcement capability through IT training is positive, but given heavy-handed GOT interference in the internet, Post questions whether this will expand GOT capacity to monitor its own citizens. Ultimately, for Microsoft the benefits outweigh the costs.”

In June 2011 Slim Amamu exposed on ReadWriteWeb France a large scale phishing attack made by Bin Ali cyber police, as they put false pages of gmail and facebook and forging SSL certificates to steal users password to take control their profile and read their correspondents. Google responded by enforcing https connection to all its sites on Tunis.

French news site rue89 says “By including in the Microsoft Internet Explorer management of security certificates, the computer giant has taken on considerable responsibility. By giving the Tunisian state, which has its own certification authority, the ability to “label” all possible domains and not only its  government domains. Tn,  the government the opportunity not impose false gmail pages without triggering problems for users using  Windows Explorer.”

Tunisian government where known of arresting bloggers and torturing them and political activists and in blocking sites such as YouTube and Flickr. The revolution in Tunisia early this year toppled Bin Ali and triggered the Arab spring the brought down so far the regime of Husni Mubarak in Egypt and Gaddafi in Libya.

(Disclosure: Microsoft was an advertiser on ArabCrunch)

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