Post Clinton’s Internet Freedom Speech:US- SourceForge Blocked Syria, Sudan, Iran, N. Korea & Cuba: Is Open Source Still Open?
Following Linkedin move of unblocking Syria after ArabCrunch reported the incident ( and kept it against Sudan ), we heard different reports that U.S. Federal government officials are preparing to waive some of the sanctions against Syria that was imposed by the Bush administration , but few days ago these sanctions became worse: SourceForge.net the world’s largest open source software development web site blocked users from downloading free open source software from “banned locations” meaning users and developers form Syria, Sudan, Iran, N Korea and Cuba are banned.
This puts developers from Syria, Sudan, Iran, Korea and Cuba and their IT industry in the dark since many development tools that every developer needs are hosted on sourceforge and since also Google blocks downloading software for its open source repository code.google.com for users from these countries.
This event is a direct contradiction to the open source philosophy that SF preaches, this also comes in light of US secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterdays speech urging Internet freedom! as she said:
“We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas,” said Clinton in a major address that cited China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt among countries that censored the Internet or harassed bloggers!
To this end, we have a guest post from Abdulrahman Idlbi, Opinions expressed by guest writers do not necessarily reflects ArabCrunch’s point of view. However we condemn SF blockhead and call it a sad event that contradicts with Clinton’s call for “equal access to knowledge and ideas” and with US congressman Brian Baird ideas, who agreed with ArabCrunch that open source should be open.
( ArabCrunch.NET has opens source profiles and there was a thread opened about this subject here.)
Here is Idlbi guest post:
You represent you are not a person on a list barring you from receiving services under U.S. laws or other applicable jurisdiction, 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, detailed at http://www.bis.doc.gov/complianceandenforcement/ListsToCheck.htm (or successor sites thereto). Users residing in countries on the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control sanction list, including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, may not post Content to, or access Content available through, SourceForge.net.
As of January 2008, people from those countries can browse SourceForge projects and download from them, but access to the secure server was not allowed, so they would not be able to log in to SourceForge or contribute to projects. As of January 2010, blocking went further with not allowing people coming from “banned locations” to download anything from SourceForge.net, having a response similar to this one: http://sourceforge.net/t7.php.
Basically, the case is not totally new. For a long time, people on those countries lived with the fact that companies like Mathworks and Microchip block their sites in their faces, and others like Sun prevent them from downloading their products. However, that has not been a great problem: programmers in Syria are still using Java and PIC microcontrollers, and students in Iran are still doing their research using Matlab; most of the time, using the same techniques and tools that are developed to avoid the raising censorship in many countries around the world.
Sun has blocked people in several countries from accessing its so-claimed open source projects, but users in those countries have reluctantly ignored the situation as they managed their way around, coping with Sun’s own definition of open source. However, the latest incident, SourgeForge.net blockage, has been surprising and disappointing for FOSS people in those countries. SourceForge.net defines itself as “the world’s largest open source software development web site”  with the previous link directing to opensource.org, where you can read the following definition :
The Open Source Definition
Open source doesn’t just mean access to the source code. The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria:
5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups
The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.
6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor
The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.
So, what? Free software is a matter of freedom: people should be free to use software in all the ways that are socially useful. Or is that freedom a right for some people but not for others?
While celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King a few days ago, it seems we still have a long journey to walk against discrimination in all its ugly faces, even with having the Open Source and OpenNet initiatives. It is kind of misleading to hide behind political considerations or terrorism threats to justify those acts of discrimination (which are not that different from the Third World governments’ justifications of Internet censorship), as those acts would only affect, if they would really do, normal peaceful people. Actually, the only effect I see is not simply an increasing feeling of prejudice or suspicion among the computing society, but more remarkably, distrust and losing faith in initiatives raising shiny mottoes with supposedly great ethics behind, such as “Software Freedom”. When a student or an academician in one of those banned countries read a report like “Access Denied” or know about OpenNet Initiative , they feel a bitter irony. They believe that the people behind such efforts should pay more attention to the behavior of their own government, which is leading the “Free World”.
How should the community respond? NautilusSVN developers can set an example. They had their project hosted by Google Code when they received complaints from a Syrian blogger on being blocked due to US export policies. The developers found that going against their open source philosophy, so they moved their project to Launchpad, renaming it to RabbitVCS . However, would Launchpad be the next on the list? Maybe the open source community have to consider migrating their projects to “less free” countries with no export control regulations, so they can express their software beliefs more freely.
Without an action taken, Free Software would become, at least for us, a matter of biased ethics (which are usually not called ethics anymore), rather than a matter of freedom. Sorry, Martin… I have a dream, that one day open source would be really open…
It worth mentioning that Internet content blockage against some countries is not restricted to getting software or services. It is really disappointing to try to participate in a global humanitarian event such as Earth Hour or Google Haiti crisis response to make a donation, to find out that parts of those websites (powered by Google) are blocked. Even donating to Haiti victims is an act of terrorism? I thought the US is the one who’s committing crimes against the environment and climate, so shouldn’t US citizens be the ones to be blocked by EarthHour rather than Syrians?
 About SourceForge.net. http://sourceforge.net/about
 The Open Source Definition. http://www.opensource.org/docs/osd
 OpenNet Initiative. http://opennet.net/
 The migration happened after correspondence between a Syrian blogger, M. B. Noimi, and the developers of NautilusSVN. Parts of the correspondence can be downloaded from: http://mbnoimi.net/w/wp-content/plugins/download-monitor/download.php?id=4. The original story appeared on a blog in Arabic: http://mbnoimi.net/w/?p=712
Guest writer bio:
Abdulrahman Idlbi is computer engineering master’s student at King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (KFUPM.) His interests include researching using technology in enhancing learning and creative thinking among children, in addition to following the continuing blockage of internet resources in the face of people from countries banned by US export policies. – CC with Attribution to ArabCrunch and Abdulrahman Idlbi with a link back to this post.-