SANTIAGO, Chile, 16 August 2007
Emails, text messages and the media spread the word: the Chilean government has signed one of the broadest known-agreements to date with the Microsoft Corporation, covering aspects of education, management of personal data, and support for local governments (municipalities) and the micro enterprise sector.
It is not unusual for the firm to establish this sort of agreement with governments. The critical issue was that with no prior bidding process, the world’s largest computing firm was eased in positioning its applications and services for use in the implementation of a large part of the actions of President Michelle Bachelet’s strategic digital development plan. In Chile this plan is known as Digital Agenda 2.0 (2007-2010), and it is a continuation of the first plan that was implemented under the administration of President Ricardo Lagos.
The eleven points of disagreement
The “Framework Agreement for Collaboration between the Government of Chile and the MS Corporation”, signed by the current minister of the economy, a portfolio that includes responsibility for the new policy for information and communication technologies, is a legal contract which establishes “voluntary collaboration” on eleven points, including:
- Training and digital certification in the use of the basic applications of the Office suite for unemployed youth between 18 and 35 years of age.
– The creation of a “Digital Address” (a space where citizens would have access to all relevant information, notifications and interaction with public institutions): collecting, through the Live platform (which includes email accounts), the personal information of all, nearly 16 million, Chileans.
– Support for the creation and implementation of municipal portals across the country.
– An investment of approximately USD 1,600,000 to train students and teachers in the use of products from the Microsoft Office application suite.
– Training in and ease of access to productivity applications for the small and medium enterprise sector.
The entire agreement can be accessed at the blog eldiabloenlosdetalles.net/acuerdo-marco-de-colaboracion-microsoft-gobierno-de-chile.
Several questions remained up in the air: was this a digital coup d’état? Was the private information of millions of citizens going to be “handed over” to a private company?
Troubled citizens network on the net
Only a few hours after the document was finally made public, for though it was signed in May 2007 it was not publicly released, one of the largest ever netizen (cybercitizen) movements had come together against the agreement as the Movement for Digital Liberation, under the slogan “For an open and technologically independent Chile.”
As Juan Olguín, one of its rotating spokespersons, explained, “We are a space and platform for action where hundreds of Chilean citizens began to act and interact, from professionals to students to ordinary people who are interested in the topic. We have been able to self-organise in a decentralised way, via several working groups and an Assembly for decision-making.”
In an intense week, the group worked collaboratively to prepare a letter that was delivered to President Bachelet during the last week of July. A group of representatives also had the opportunity to put forward their position before the Science and Technology Commission of the House of Representatives during the first week of August.
The primary critiques focus on:
- The lack of transparency, given that there was no public bidding process, opening the way for a bias that induces the use of applications of a certain type, which threatens free competition, free trade and the development of a national software industry.
– The lack of clarity regarding what investment the Chilean government will be required to make once the donated licences expire.
– The lack of vision regarding global technological tendencies, which can be seen in cases like Brazil, Venezuela, Finland, Germany or France, countries that have backed the development of their own solutions and digital platforms, based on free and open source software.
Werner Westerman of Educalibre, an educational community that fosters the use of free and open source software, adds the following points: “The agreement seeks to establish the certification known as the ICDL (International Computer Driving Licence) as a significant contribution to the digital training of unemployed youth. Microsoft Chile together with Fundación Chile (the Chile Foundation), a public-private entity that works to promote technological innovation and development, monopolise this certification field (see www.icdl.cl), which applies only to Windows software. There are other certification systems for digital competency in existence which effectively integrate true digital competencies and not just the ability to use a word processor.”
The official positions: the Ministry of the Economy and Microsoft Chile
Both the company and the only press release issued to date by the Ministry of the Economy have played down the controversy.
The official ministry press release states that the agreement “does not include the handover of citizens’ data to a private company”, and clarifies that “the company commits to delivering the source code to the municipalities, so that they can design portals which allow them to connect with the community and a series of applications to promote the technological modernisation of local governments.”
As to the most criticised aspect of the agreement, the creation of a Digital Address, the release explains that “no data will be handed over” and that this data “will remain under the custody of the Civil Records and Identifications Service”. Finally, the press release reiterates, “this will not alter the government’s policy of technological neutrality”.
Microsoft Chile has also defended its role, arguing that the document in question is a “statement of intent”. The company’s spokesperson in Chile has explained several times that neither the government nor individuals are obliged to use the company’s services if they choose not to, and has argued that “the government is not paying out money” with this agreement.
News under construction
The debate will continue to develop in the next few weeks in the blogosphere and in other spaces for citizen organising, contributing new information on the agreement and its implications.
Photo: Presentation of the agreement in the House of Representatives. Source: LuisRamirez.cl
The original can be found here.