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The Open Source Embargo


Or “Separate but Equal hits the Open Source Community”.

I wrote a blog post a while back about location based profiling on the web. Many websites do it, particularly television and movie sites and financially sensitive websites. The reasoning I can often gather from looking at the terms of service and other language is that these sites are simply trying to ‘protect’ their users who happen to usually be primarily North American or European. They can’t rely on foreign authorities to police the hackers, phishers, and scammers coming from those countries, and since it’s not cost effective to do anything else, they blindly classify anyone who happens to born in the wrong place as not being able to use the their services AT ALL.

But today, I think I died a little inside. As a champion of open source as a way for people to stop depending on aid, and to improve their own education and resources to empower themselves as digital citizens, I was more than surprised to read that SourceForge (one of the leading hubs of open source activity) has begun denying access to ANY IP addresses identified as originating from the countries of Sudan, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Cuba. If you don’t immediately get the ramifications of this just type the query “open source” into Google and what’s the first site that comes up? SourceForge.

SourceForge is quick to explain they do not support this decision but they were essentially forced to as a company based out of the United States:

Since 2003, the Terms and Conditions of Use have prohibited certain persons from receiving services pursuant to U.S. laws, including, without limitations, the Denied Persons List and the Entity List, and other lists issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security. The specific list of sanctions that affect our users concern the transfer and export of certain technology to foreign persons and governments on the sanctions list. This means users residing in countries on the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanction list, including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, may not post content to, or access content available through, Last week, began automatic blocking of certain IP addresses to enforce those conditions of use.

Still, this is a truly disheartening blow to the open source community as a whole. It attempts to say that we are not truly ‘one’ software community, and that we as human beings are nothing more than the sum of the parts of the people who claim to represent us. Furthermore, this action seems to imply that any software hosted on U.S. soil is therefore on U.S ‘property’ and thus subject to U.S. jurisdiction. That stands against the very idea of the internet and the world wide web. Hell, it’s hypocritical of everything the current U.S. administration has said about internet freedom and digital rights and about providing access to information to all. Furthermore, how will this affect all the social and aid organizations attempting to combat illiteracy, poor education, and the ideals of terrorism from the ground in these countries? How can we ever expect change by limiting people’s options instead of expanding them?

I realize that there are national security measures that must be taken against the people in certain countries who wish to do other countries harm. But is the neighbor of a terrorist simply guilty by association? I truly hope that’s not the global digital future we’re headed for.

More on this…

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