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[liberationtech] Online tools blocked in Syria. Its probably not what you think.

John Scott-Railton john.scott.railton at
Mon Aug 20 23:18:42 PDT 2012

Hi All,

You're likely aware of US export restrictions intended to limit the Assad Regime's access to monitoring and filtering gear.  But there is another side of this coin: unintended and negative effects on Syrians' access to personal communications and security technologies. This inadvertently compliments the regime's own filtering efforts.

 A few hours ago, an online petition*  started circulating, requesting that the Departments of Commerce and Treasury review and  streamline export licensure, guidance and review to address the problem.  The petition is hosted by, and led by Dlshad Othman, a Syrian opposition IT expert.

Please consider signing, and spreading the petition link:

I've written a  quick summary.

TL;DR for Libtech:

-Some key software and online services, including security tools, aren't making their way to Syrians. 
- Even if the tools are exempted under the letter of the law
-Syrian digital activists don't understand why this is happening, given official statements from the US that say these tools should be available.  
- Last week, the Washington Post laid out the problem: Washington Post Article
-Sanctions are complicated, and the process of licensure is quite long.  It can be resource consuming, even for big players.
-Penalties for violations are severe
-Companies' risk-averse compliance regimes are partly responsible for why many tools currently legal under the letter of current law, or whose legality could be quickly determined, have not been made available to Syrians.
-Companies will benefit from clearer signals and guidance from Departments of Commerce and Treasury 
-A new general license is needed: it should give clearer and more explicit exemptions on personal communications and security technologi balancing legitimate concerns over cryptography and financial transactions with the need to protect the safety of at-risk populations
- For specific licenses, a more streamlined process also needs to be implemented, giving clearer formal and informal guidance to companies, and a faster case-by-case licensing mechanism for companies and NGOs 

* (full disclosure, I'm involved) 


John Scott-Railton

John Scott-Railton

PGP key ID: 0x3e0ccb80778fe8d7
Fingerprint: FDBE BE29 A157 9881 34C7  8FA6 3E0C CB80 778F E8D7

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