Posted by Joshua on Monday, January 25th, 2010
The US Censors Syrian Internet
By Idaf, January 24, 2010
for Syria Comment
Sourceforge just became the latest US-based entity to censor Syria along with five other countries. Despite being one of the leading proponents of “open source” and “free” software, Sourceforge has succumbed to pressure from the US government to deny access to its products to millions of people. It is betraying its own values and its promise to bring products that are produced by everyone to everyone.
Sourceforge is only the latest Internet company to join Washington’s call to target Syrian citizens with sanctions. A long list of US based businesses have already denied their services to Syria’s increasingly Internet savvy youth. Microsoft refuses to provide technical courses and certificates to Syrian nationals, whether they live in Syria or anywhere else in the world. Google blocked the ability of anyone living in Syria to download their software tools. Cisco blocked sales of its infrastructure networking devices to Syria, RIM (Blackberry) has prevented its services from reaching Syria. Godaddy (and similar Internet hosting services) took down websites hosted on their servers by Syrians, regardless of content. US companies in the Gulf have reversed their decision to hire Syrian engineers, after their US lawyers warned them that they might be vulnerable to law suits by the US Treasury Department.
Ironically, the US government has long since outstripped the Syrian government as the main censor of the web for tech savvy Syrians. The Syrian government is all thumbs when it comes to censorship of the Internet. Any smart Syrian will tell you his government’s efforts to block websites is practically useless. The overwhelming majority of internet surfers in Syria can easily bypass the efforts of government blocking through the use of proxy sites and free tools. US businesses have oddly become the real censors of the Syrian web.
Does this serve American interests? It is hard to see how. The stated objective of the policy is to “stop US technologies from reaching terrorists.” The only problem with this lofty goal is that all the “terrorist” organizations that America accuses Syria of supporting are based outside Syria: Hamas is in Palestine; Hizbullah is in Lebanon; and Iraqi insurgents live in Iraq. The US sanctions none off these countries. On the contrary, US IT corporations pour money into these three countries under CSR, development and market expansion plans. And besides, the technology of these companies reaches Syrians through third parties. Of course, the restriction make the technology more expensive and it annoys us, but we get it. Cisco routers can be purchased in Damascus; they are brought from Lebanon. Cheap Chinese knock offs are also easily obtained in the Syrian market. One can also argue that Washington’s policy is also counter-productive because it will cause long term damage to US businesses in these region.
Even more damaging for the US is the anger it instills in Syrian youth — after all, it is overwhelmingly college age Syrians and young professionals who are affected by this policy. When they try to update a program or download software and are notified that they cannot because they are suspected of supporting terror, they get angry and feel that their dignity has been affronted.
Secretary Clinton recently delivered a speech in which she stated: “We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.” She mentioned China, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt as countries that censor the Internet. But from the perspective of a young Syrians, the US is just as guilty. Syrians hear US officials preach about “freedom of information,” but they experience a very different practice. To the average Syrian citizen, these policies seem to be unprovoked attacks on their rightful access to the Internet. They think of American restrictions exactly as they think about their own government’s efforts to block Facebook or YouTube.
US businesses are as guilty as the US government in the eyes of ordinary Syrians. These businesses are only playing it safe by following lawyers advice yet no federal lawsuit has ever been brought against any business making its online service available to Syrians. It strikes Syrians as completely hypocritical that Google is pulling out of the Chinese market because the Chinese government is requesting that it censor Internet search results, yet it thinks nothing of “censoring” Syrians by banning them from hosting software projects on its servers, blocking downloads of its free software in Syria, such as the browser “Chrome,” and banning Syrian online publishers from receiving funds from Google’s advertising services (AdSense), while allowing non-Syrian advertisers to target Syrians and encourage travelers to visit the beauties of our country. It just doesn’t make sense to us. Syrian youth believe that the US government and corporations are being capricious and mean.
All the same, Syrians manage to find creative ways to be active online in all fields despite the censorship of our own and America’s governments. See this article, for example: Founded by Syrian Entrepreneur, Google Acquires Admob for US 750 million.
Abdulrahman Idlbi, a Syrian student and entrepreneur, explains how Syria’s online community views America’s policy to be twisted in this article. American sanctions hurt US businesses, alienate Arab youth, and do nothing to combat terrorism.
Addendum: Here is a note I was forwarded by Alex
Subject: Open Souce Issue in Syria
Dear Mr. Alex,
I am the General Director of Advanced Tech company, one of the leading software companies within Syria. And I would like to share with you our point of view relevant to the act by SourceForge to block Syria and how that is hurting the private software development industry in Syria.
And since the proprietary software developed in the US is subject to export control which means that it is not possible to have it within the Syrian market, and hence not available to the Syrian private software development industry, the only other resource is open source. And such open source is widely used in several domains including education, health and finance sectors.
Consequently, it is unfair to deprive the Syrian private software industry from open source software, which might be developed any where in the world.
So I would appreciate if our problem can be heard and you can help in finding a solution to this as it is extremely important to develop the private software sector in Syria and help in turn to improve the standard of living for the Syrian people.
Ammar ALALI: email@example.com
Tear down these virtual walls
Don’t let anti-freedom firewalls threaten the Internet’s impact on democracy.
(By Carl Bildt, The Washington Post)