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FOI shows bureaucratic bungle behind open standards u-turn

Computer Weekly - Standards institutions persisted in their opposition to the UK's open standards policy after Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude reassured them their fears about it were unfounded, according to letters released to Computer Weekly under Freedom of Information.

The revelation raises questions about the minister's subsequent withdrawal of the UK policy, on 30 November, which was by then under no substantial pressure bar lobbying from large US software companies and, bizarrely, the record industry.

A letter sent by Maude in June last year, and obtained by Computer Weekly, showed how he had even then already extinguished threats and fears raised by opponents of the UK open standards policy in official standards bodies in Chiswick and Geneva.

The International Standards Organisation and its UK franchise, the British Standards Organisation, had threatened that the coalition government would be in breach of international agreements if it persisted with the policy. This would have meant expulsion from the international standards community, a threat so severe that it sent the Cabinet Office into a tailspin of public consultations.

But the standards bodies had got it all wrong - and this they later admitted.

The letters now obtained by Computer Weekly suggest they either misunderstood the policy because their executive officers did not understand software standards issues, or they wilfully misinterpreted it to protect their business interests. Neither organisation was available for comment.