US raised concerns over Microsoft Tunisia deal

Microsoft 2006 software deal with Tunisian government questioned in Wikileaks cable

Tags: Cyber crimeMicrosoft CorporationTunisia
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US raised concerns over Microsoft Tunisia deal US diplomats were concerned that the regime of President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, (pictured) would use cyber crime training from Microsoft to spy on Tunisians. (Getty Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  September 6, 2011

US diplomats were concerned that a 2006 deal between Microsoft and the Government of Tunisia (GOT) would increase the regime's ability to spy on its citizens.

In a cable released through the latest batch of revelations from Wikileaks, US diplomats raised concerns that the government under President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, ousted in January this year, would be able to leverage a joint training programme with Microsoft on cyber crime to further clamp down on online dissent.

The deal in question was signed in 2006, and provided the Tunisian government with 12,000 Microsoft software licences, to replace mainly pirated software.

The cable noted that the deal was contra to a 2001 government policy to only use open source software, and that "future GOT tenders for IT equipment will specify that the equipment must be Microsoft compatible, which is currently prohibited by the Tunisian open software policy".

Microsoft also pledged to establish a Microsoft Innovation Centre to develop local the software industry, and an educational programmed for handicapped people. The cable pointed out that development of the local software industry appealed to the government as a means to tackle disaffection over graduate unemployment, while President Ben Ali's wife Leila Ben Ali ran a charity for handicapped Tunisians.

The deal also included a training programme for the the Ministries of Justice and Interior on fighting cyber crime, which the embassy wrote "given heavy-handed GOT interference in the internet, Post [embassy] questions whether this will expand GOT capacity to monitor its own citizens".

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