Monday, February 15, 2010

19th century regulation vs. 21st century technology

Returning to the U.S. government’s blocking of open source software sites and instant messaging applications to people in Cuba, here are two items:

  • An explanation from open-source software site of why it has to comply with U.S. law.

  • A comment from Computerworld magazine editor Sharon Machlis that notes the impossibility of these sanctions achieving their intent. She points out that people in sanctioned countries have long been barred from contributing to open-source sites, and now they are barred from downloading from them too.

There is something quaint about the U.S. bureaucracy issuing orders like this, as if it were banning the export of a specific commodity from a small territory with three easily controlled points of entry and exit, each with a little customs house checking every wagon or cart that goes by.

The Internet is a little different. If governments in sanctioned countries want something that’s on the web, a U.S. government order that blocks IP addresses in those countries is not going to stop them from getting it. They have embassies all over the world, right?

The blocking of IP addresses will affect individuals with no connection to the government.

This, at a time when the Secretary of State has made a speech on Internet freedom declaring that the United States stands for a “single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.”

And consider this: USAID pays contractors to go to Cuba to provide satellite Internet service to Cubans, but for those Cubans who have access already, U.S. sanctions tell them they can’t get Microsoft Instant Messenger or open-source software.

We’ll give it to you, but if you want to help yourselves, forget it.

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