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

Collin Anderson collin at averysmallbird.com
Tue Aug 21 11:32:43 PDT 2012


Rafal,

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?


It's understandable, the issue is fairly opaque until you spend some time
on Syria's Internet (and for that matter, any of the five US comprehensive
sanctions targets).

I have a small list for Iran[1], however, it has to be recognized that Iran
gets more attention from companies and public agencies. Whereas Google
Chrome, Earth, and Picasa have been available in Iran since 2011, they were
only opened up to Syria in June. The actual availability problem is
compounded when intermediaries close their services for sanctioned
countries -- Google Code and Sourceforge's policies mean that source and
binaries for many cryptography and human rights applications are restricted
without the projects even realizing. To continue, some content
platforms, as best as I can tell AppEngine included, don't even allow
access to the web applications they host. One can continue with antivirus,
paid VPN and online advertising (which matters a great deal), but I think
those are at least peripherally covered in links above.

[1]
https://github.com/collina/Internet-Freedom-Repository/wiki/Sanctions:-Reverse-Filtering-(%D9%81%DB%8C%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%B9%DA%A9%D9%88%D8%B3-)

On Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 2:00 PM, Jillian C. York <jilliancyork at gmail.com>wrote:

> 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
>>
>> PGP key ID: 0x3e0ccb80778fe8d7
>> Fingerprint: FDBE BE29 A157 9881 34C7  8FA6 3E0C CB80 778F E8D7
>>
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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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-- 
*Collin David Anderson*
averysmallbird.com | @cda | Washington, D.C.
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