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OSS advocates file human rights complaint against SA election body

By   |  September 2, 2008

The head of South Africa’s government open source working group, the chief technical officer of the State IT Agency (Sita) and The Shuttleworth Foundation, have laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) against the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) for excluding non-Internet Explorer users from it website.

As reported last week the IEC website does not allow users access to the website if they are not using Internet Explorer.

The complaint to the HRC has been laid by Aslam Raffee, chair of government’s OSS and Open Standards Working Group, Daniel Mashao, chief technical officer of Sita, and Helen King of The Shuttleworth Foundation.

The complaint says that, “unlike the vast majority of websites on the world wide web, and unlike other South African government websites, this website [the IEC website] is not accessible to viewers, except those who have purchased a particular software product from a specific software vendor.

“The consequence is that anyone attempting to access the IEC site is presented with a refusal of access if the person does not obtain the proprietary software not only for a specific browser but for a specific operating system. Anyone using a different browser cannot access the site, and therefore cannot access the IEC information.”

The complaint goes on to say that it is “essential that appropriate control is exercised over the imposition of technology which impacts on delivery of government services”.

The complaint also says that it is “mandatory to comply with minimum interoperability standards (MIOS) for the public service as it is essential for seamless and integrated service delivery”.

“The IEC’s decision to make its website inaccessible to everyone except for purchasers of a proprietary product violates the rights set out in the Constitution.”

Among other violations of the human rights the complaint highlights that the “Bill of Rights states that everyone has the right of access to information held by the State … The IEC can have no objection to making the content of the IEC website available since it already makes that content available to Microsoft customers. The imposition of a requirement that in order to access information from the IEC South Africans should purchase software from a particular vendor is contrary to core of the right of access to information.”

The complainants say that government bodies should never force people to use a particular proprietary vendor’s products, should not favour a particular proprietary vendor’s products, should never require people to purchase a particular proprietary vendor’s products, should adhere to open standards, especially those set out in the MIOS; and government bodies should support free and open source software.

The full text of the complaint laid with the HRC can be found on the blog of Aslam Raffee.

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Comments

14 Responses to “OSS advocates file human rights complaint against SA election body”

  1. Ken
    September 2nd, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

    Serves them right for closing the door to anyone not using MS.
    Their website currently says they are working on allowing other browsers to access the site.

  2. Ryzor
    September 2nd, 2008 @ 5:19 pm

    I think its been like this for a while – (how can i install IE on ubuntu)??? – eish!

  3. Alastair
    September 2nd, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

    @Ryzor:
    The site has been like this for quite some time. You could use IES4Linux (http://www.tatanka.com.br/ies4linux/page/Main_Page) to install IE on Ubuntu but really you shouldn’t have to go to those lengths.

  4. Gert
    September 2nd, 2008 @ 7:46 pm

    The site has been like that for years….

    I attempted to get it posted to Slashdot about a year ago with no success…

    I was reminded of the issue 26 August and sent an email to the hard to find Webmaster@elections.org.za address. They have not bothered to reply yet… (I assume that they may be experiencing a high volume of complains at the moment…)

  5. Gert
    September 2nd, 2008 @ 8:01 pm

    Interestingly enough, the copy of the Human Rights Commission Act at http://www.sahrc.org.za/sahrc_cms/publish/cat_index_88.shtml is provided only as a Word document.

  6. Mark
    September 2nd, 2008 @ 8:31 pm

    I installed a firefox add-on to read IE sites, but it was removed when I installed FF 3.0. I’m glad it did that, since I want to have a choice of which browser I want to use no matter what site I visit. So Booooo to the IEC. It is quite amazing how the government signs certain agreements and then totally do things contrary to its own decisions.

  7. zenarcher
    September 2nd, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

    Quite a simple issue to resolve for Firefox users. After attempting to access the website with Firefox on Linux, and being denied access, I merely switched to mimic IE7, with the “User Agent Switcher” extension, which is available for Firefox. I then left the website….returned to it and had complete access. “User Agent Switcher” has resolved browser compatibility issues on several website I’ve visited.

  8. D
    September 3rd, 2008 @ 8:55 am

    The point is not that it _can_ be viewed in FF, the point is they are discriminating. The fact it can be viewed in FF just makes it worse as they are discriminating without a good reason. Complaining about this is a far better thing to do than installing an extension that makes ff pretend to be ie.

  9. zenarcher
    September 3rd, 2008 @ 10:57 am

    Philosophically, yes, it is discriminating, but the complaint is misleading, in that they state people using anything other than IE are locked out and that is not true.

  10. William
    September 3rd, 2008 @ 4:26 pm

    The problem is that most people do not know how to change FF to mimic IE, so even if they are using FF on Microsoft, they will have a problem, then use IE, think that the problem is “solved”, and use IE from then on, but the problem has not been “solved”.

  11. Ian
    September 5th, 2008 @ 11:22 am

    The complaint is not misleading. Using the ‘User Agent Switcher’ extension allows you in, but only some of the pages work. Some of the reports are still broken and unviewable – the reports on the municipal by-elections page, for example.

  12. Tectonic » SA launches Election 2009, website still locks out OSS users
    September 18th, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

    […] IEC is well aware that its site is inaccessible to non-Internet Explorer users as there has been a complaint laid with the Human Rights Commission for exactly this. They are also clearly aware because the message that now displays has been […]

  13. MPD
    October 17th, 2008 @ 8:09 am

    It is disturbing that an independent body promoting democracy forces people to use a particular browser by a particular company. One is forced to question the “independence” of an organisation that behaves in this manner.

  14. IEC require R3Mil for website development « Other Side of the Hyphen
    November 11th, 2008 @ 10:39 am

    […] (about US$300,000) on redesigning and redeveloping it’s website, after complaints to the Human Rights Commission have been received about it’s website excluding non-Internet Explorer […]

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