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

Jillian C. York jilliancyork at gmail.com
Tue Aug 21 11:00:59 PDT 2012


Hi Rafal and Libtech,

I'd add that this is parallel to a joint letter that EFF, Access, and
others just released last month asking companies to be more proactive in
applying for licenses and reforming the controls generally:
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/06/eff-signs-joint-coalition-letter-urging-companies-be-proactive-export-regulations

Though I can't say what prompted the Change.org petition specifically, I've
been hearing this complaint from Syrians since 2009, when LinkedIn blocked
Syrian users<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jillian-york/linkedin-alienates-syrian_b_188629.html>
(they
later fixed the problem).  If I recall, Ethan even cited that in his
chapter for *Access Controlled*.

-Jillian

On Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 10:49 AM, John Scott-Railton <
john.scott.railton at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi Rafal
> (and Libtech)
>
> I'm a bit surprised. Is there a specific case where a license has been
> denied, or were services are no longer offered because of export
> restrictions?
>
>
> Thanks for the question. Some of these issues are articulated in the
> petition text, and James Ball writing in the Washington Post on the 16th
> wrote this much more clearly than I can:
>
>
> http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/sanctions-aimed-at-syria-and-iran-are-hindering-opposition-activists-say/2012/08/14/c4c88998-e569-11e1-936a-b801f1abab19_story.html
>
> To answer your question, here are two of things you can't get right now in
> Syria:
>
> *Targeted Advertising Blocked*
> *Problem*:  Inability to do targeted advertising for users registered in
> Syrian space. E.g. purchasing PSAs on security issues on Facebook. This
> makes it difficult to do effective messaging on key issues,  or for other
> groups providing information to direct, say, social media users to their
> content.
> *Current Ad-hoc Solutions*:  Information provided in higher-cost, more
> labor-intensive ways (e.g. trainings to small groups, other kinds of
> messaging that hit much smaller, informal pools of people etc).
> *
> *
> *Mobile Apple App Store, Google Play both blocked*
> *Problem*:  Lack of access means inability to securely and
> straightforwardly access a full range of tools in app stores, including
> mobile security tools, connectivity solutions (e.g. VPNs) as well as news
> and information. Bypassing these requires jailbreaking phones.
>
> *User Quote on Mobile in Conflict:** " *if an iphone user wants to stream
> a protest or shelling he needs to jailbreak his phone or find a proxy that
> they can use to download the app or jailbreak the iphone...then i send him
> a cracked copy of the apps...[then] he then needs to upload it onto the
> phone then he is able to use the vpn or streaming app"
>
> *Current Ad-hoc Solutions*:  Unwieldy work arounds. Doesn't work for
> everyone, phones must be made more vulnerable by being jailbroken.*
> *
>
> There are many other issues, including access to Sourceforge, auto-updates
> for Java, Windows Activation and so on. As the petition frames it, the
> complexity of this issue stems from the roles played both by sanctions and
> export licensure, and by companies own reluctance to undertake the legal
> determination of whether their products are legal (e.g. under General
> License #5).
>
> The end result is that Syrians don't have access to important tools.  Both
> government and private sector actors / tool developers have an imperative
> to address this, we think.  On the government end, we think that
> encouraging better guidance and clarity and review of licensure for Syria
> is a natural step, and a stronger signal to the private sector. Recent
> efforts to review and ease sanctions on Iran are a good model to start with.
>
>
> Anyway, I'm interested what prompted this petition as our organization is
> about to embark on ramping up of a large-scale activity focused on Syria
> and digital safety.
>
>
> Good luck!
>
> Very best,
>
> John
>
>
>
> Many thanks
>
> Rafal
>
> Sent from my PsiPhone
>
> On 2012-08-21, at 2:18 AM, John Scott-Railton <
> john.scott.railton at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> 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 Change.org, and led by Dlshad Othman, a Syrian opposition IT
> expert.
>
> *Please consider signing, and spreading the petition link:*
> www.change.org/syria
>
> 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<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/sanctions-aimed-at-syria-and-iran-are-hindering-opposition-activists-say/2012/08/14/c4c88998-e569-11e1-936a-b801f1abab19_story.html>
> -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)
>
>
>
> Best,
>
> John Scott-Railton
>
>
>
> John Scott-Railton
> www.johnscottrailton.com
>
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-- 
*+1-857-891-4244 |** jilliancyork.com | @jilliancyork *

"We must not be afraid of dreaming the seemingly impossible if we want the
seemingly impossible to become a reality" - *Vaclav Havel*
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