WikiLeaks: US diplomats were critical of partnership between Microsoft and Tunisia
Five years ago, staff at the United States Embassy in the Tunisian capital of Tunis voiced their concern in writing about a partnership that software firm Microsoft had entered into with Tunisia, as the whistle-blower web site WikiLeaks revealed last week. While embassy staff thought that the Tunisian IT experts' plans to battle cybercrime, promote e-government, and better protect intellectual property were theoretically a good idea, they were also worried that the Tunisian government might be able to use the same technologies to spy on its own citizens even more.
The embassy cable says that the agreement between Microsoft and Tunisia was signed at the Government Leaders Forum Africa 2006. As part of the partnership, employees at Tunisia's Ministry of Justice and the Interior were to receive training along with 12,000 licenses for Microsoft software. Furthermore, a small, select group of staff from the Tunisian government were to receive special access to the source code for Microsoft software. Finally, Tunisia would have to make sure that any hardware purchased was compatible with Microsoft products. According to the cable, Tunisia had been promoting and using only open source software since 2001. Khedija Ghariani, at the time undersecretary for "Computers, Internet, and Free Software," signed the agreement with Microsoft on behalf of the Tunisian government.
In 2006, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was president of Tunisia; he fled the country in mid-January 2011 after the revolution. In the last few weeks of his 24-year reign, Ben Ali ramped up censorship on the Internet in Tunisia. Before this cable was leaked, the only major known agreement signed at the Government Leaders Forum Africa in July 2006 – which Microsoft founder Bill Gates also attended – was Microsoft's partnership with UN organisations to train some 45 million Africans in information technology up to 2010.