The Open Bar Contract between Microsoft and the French Ministry of Defence Is Mentioned during the Parliamentary Review concerning Access to Administrative Documents

On January 29th, 2014, Jérôme Hourdeaux, a Mediapart journalist, was heard [fr] by the joint National Assembly/Senate task force concerning access to administrative documents.

He mentioned, in particular, the Open Bar contract between Microsoft and the French Ministry of Defence, which he had already discussed in the Mediapart columns. Thus, over the course of his hearing, he summarised the Open Bar dossier, and stressed the difficulties encountered in obtaining copies of administrative documents, as well as the problems entailed by document blacking out.

April has made several requests for copies of administrative documents in connection with this dossier —the latest one still pending— and it has already denounced intensive redaction by the government services, even if the most recent requests have enabled confirmation of the political games involved in the original contract and its renewal. Many pieces of information remain unknown to us, however, and April is glad that this issue has been clearly spelled out.

Text of the Open Bar Hearing:

Jérôme Hourdeaux, Mediapart journalist. — My experience is with the Internet and public contracts. Only once, yesterday, did I bring a request before the CADA (Committee on Access to Administrative Documents), and that was to obtain disclosure of the so-called Open Bar contract between the Ministry of Defence and Microsoft, which was signed in 2009 to provide software for part of the Ministry's computing equipment. This contract gave rise to a controversy on national sovereignty, digital independance. As early as 2009, the media revealed the negotiations between Microsoft and the Ministry of Defence; April (an NGO devoted to promoting and protecting Free Software) applied to the CADA for a copy of the contract, and quickly obtained it... with all the interesting sections blacked out. It took NGOs and journalists four years of struggling to obtain the document, which was leaked by non-CADA sources. Nothing in this contract concerned defence secrets. But how did it get signed? There were internal memos, which were very unfavourable; an expert evaluation, which was strongly critical; the CCMP (Advisory Committee for Public Contracts) expressed a favourable but very critical opinion. These documents were not published until October 2013, that is four years after the contract was signed, when it was due for renewal. I became interested in the contract in September 2013, at the time of its renewal. I requested a copy of it from the DICOD (French Defence Ministry's Department of Information and Communication), which refused to answer me and subsequently informed me, on the day before my article was due for publication, that it was not going to give me the copy and that the contract-renewal process was being examined by the CCMP. And this response came after one month had gone by. In order to refer any matter to the CADA, the documents and the issuing departments have to be identified. This is complicated in the present case, because the CCMP no longer exists. After many emails, phone calls, and reminders, I learned that the document was in the hands of the Internal Documentation and Computing Department, and that I must contact the Ministry of Defence, which has published a redacted version of it. In short, back to the starting block for another four-year struggle! The length of Mediapart's publishing cycle allows us to spend months on such investigations, which is not possible at daily-news-oriented Web sites, like the Nouvel Observateur's, where I've worked.


Jean-Jacques Hyest, President. — Some Defence contracts are classified as defence secrets...

Jérôme Hourdeaux. — In the present case, this does not apply. Trade secret was invoked, while, to my knowledge, nothing substantiates it. The controversial aspect of the dossier is what bothered the Ministry of Defence, as evidenced by a memo referring to the controversy in the media.

Mathilde Mathieu. — Speaking of defence secrets, we observed a fool's game: a judge who wants to declassify documents sends a request to the Minister, who forwards it to the Advisory Committee for National Defence Secrets and follows its advice, or not. In the end, the Minister is the one who decides, which we, at Mediapart, consider to be in contradiction with the separation of powers. The rules of that game should be changed.

Jean-Jacques Hyest, President. — We did not consider this issue a priori. It is a topic in itself. The Minister usually follows the Committee's advice.

Mathilde Mathieu. — But it's the government services that make the decision about what they forward, or don't forward, to the Committee.