Iran, Syria and SourceForge.net

The US cries foul about China’s internet filtering, but maybe America should take a closer look at its own backyard…

Tags: CubaIranNorth KoreaSourceForge.net (www.sourceforge.net)SyriaUSA
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Iran, Syria and SourceForge.net
By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  February 9, 2010

“No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups”. This is one of the rules governing open source software. But the underlying principles of open source don’t seem to carry weight in the US government’s eyes as SourceForge.net (the most well known open source downloading site) recently had to block Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Sudan from being able to access this website.

Users residing in countries that are part of the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanction list were not able to post content to, or access content available through SourceForge.net for a brief period over the last few weeks. Seeing as many open source projects are only hosted on SourceForge, you can imagine the inconvenience and the outcry this created.

In a statement that was released on SourceForge’s website, the owners of the site communicated how unhappy they were about this whole situation:

“As one of the first companies to promote the adoption and distribution of free and open source software, and one that still puts open source at the centre of its corporate ideals, restrictions on the free flow of information rub us the wrong way. However, in addition to participating in the open source community, we also live in the real world, and are governed by the laws of the country in which we are located. Our need to follow those laws supersedes any wishes we might have to make our community as inclusive as possible. The possible penalties for violating these restrictions include fines and imprisonment. Other hosting companies based in the US have similar legal and technical restrictions in place.”

A few days later however and SourceForge announced that it had found a ‘workaround’ to this problem.

When uploading projects onto SourceForge, project developers now have an export control whereby they can control if their project is subject to export regulations, or any other related prohibitions. All users will then be able to download project files as they did before as long as the developers of the projects have selected the relevant export options

As a final statement, SourceForge said:

“We recognise that this change isn’t the completely free access to everything for everyone that some would like. As a US-based web site, SourceForge remains committed to complying fully with all relevant US laws and regulations, including those affecting the distribution of software. But we are also working as diligently as possible to ensure that our compliance is coupled with the highest quality of service that we can offer to our diverse, global user base.”

It’s ironic that the United States (the same country that advocated that Twitter should not consider maintaining its site during the Iranian uprisings in 2009) would put laws in place that would prevent the likes of the same Iranians from downloading Notepad++ or Pidgin. The US needs to re-think the way they apply their laws and regulations in cases such as this, otherwise America risks losing its credibility in its information battle with China.

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