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US Laws Restrict Individual Freedom and SourceForge Complies

4 de Março de 2010, 0:00 , por Software Livre Brasil - 0sem comentários ainda | Ninguém está seguindo este artigo ainda.
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On January 25th, published a post on their official blog explaining that they were denying SourceForge services and site access to users residing in countries on the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanction list, including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. Since 2003, the Terms and Conditions of Use have prohibited people from those countries from accessing their website but they only began enforcing the condition a week before posting the blog entry.

sourceforge screenshot

Part of their justification reads: “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.”

Although, many users have posted comments criticizing SourceForge’s decision. Some, such as afsharm, who has contributed to projects hosted on SourceForge and can no longer access his work now: “I am an Iranian (an innocent one) and I am not responsible for what ever my government is doing. As nawwark mentioned I’ve sometimes have contributions in SF.NET projects, so why you are denying me from my own works? It’s against freedom and against FOSS.”

Others, like yemeth, could not understand how a project based in another country can be considered a US product: “I seriously can’t understand this. I’m Spanish, and my technology isn’t northamerican. It has nothing to do with the United States except that is hosted here. I can’t understand why said government has anything to say about my will to share my code with EVERYONE. I have no personal embargo against Cuba, nor does my country.”

And there were those, like pmarkiewicz, who pointed out the easier solution: “Folks, if you visit and install tor, then SourceForge can not determine your country of origin. If you happen to traverse through an exit node that is not in an ‘axis of evil’ country, then there is no reason you would be denied that code. Senator Clinton even endorsed efforts to provide these tools to dissenters.”

The comment makes reference to Secretary of State Clinton’s request to Twitter to postpone a planned maintenance shutdown during the election protests in Iran, so that Iranian users could access and use the website (seemingly putting Twitter at legal risk, following the logic used by SourceForge). At the time, she said: “And it is the case that one of the means of expression, the use of Twitter is a very important one, not only to the Iranian people but now increasingly to people around the world, and most particularly to young people.”

Two weeks later, SourceForge posted another entry on their blog, announcing a change in their decision. Now, they have removed the block and added a feature that allows project owners to ban access to the sanctioned countries:

Beginning now, every project admin can click on Develop -> Project Admin -> Project Settings to find a new section called Export Control. By default, we’ve ticked the more restrictive setting. If you conclude that your project is *not* subject to export regulations, or any other related prohibitions, you may now tick the other check mark and click Update. After that, all users will be able to download your project files as they did before last month’s change.

While this was a positive change in the eyes of some, there are still many unanswered questions from SF users, especially those from outside of the US. They don’t understand the US laws and are not sure if they will be in some kind of trouble by choosing to freely distribute their software.

To be fair, is not the only web service to block users from the sanctioned countries. NXS News reported on this before when it was noticed that Google was blocking access to users based on the country they were surfing from. The consensus being floated around the FOSS community is to start choosing hosts outside the US for their projects, where restrictions on internet use are not so strict. A good option would be in the UK, used by MySQL and Ubuntu. Either way, the US Government’s arguments about standing up for freedom (remember, “they hate us for our freedom”) is certainly diluted by their own efforts to restrict the individual freedom of people to freely use the internet, regardless of where in the world they happen to be when using it.


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