By Mac Molli
GitHub, a U.S.-based software development company and the world’s largest host of open source code began blocking its services in countries where the U.S. has placed sanctions. This news was first reported last week when Anatoliy Kashkin, a Russian developer based in Crimea, found out his account had been restricted due to U.S. trade controls and spoke with ZDNet. Many like Kashkin, who has been using GitHub since 2012, hosting their websites on GitHub were told their accounts had been restricted. GitHub is also imposing restrictions on Iran. Hamed Saeedi is a developer based in Iran who claims GitHub blocked his account without prior warning and think he’s developing nuclear weapons. The countries and territories affected by the U.S. government sanctions are: Crimea, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
A post on GitHub’s website states, “Under our Terms of Service, users may only access and use GitHub.com in compliance with applicable law, including U.S. export control and sanctions laws. Users are responsible for ensuring that the content they develop and share on GitHub.com complies with the U.S. export control laws, including the EAR and the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).”
GitHub offers their users an appeal form to dispute the restrictions, however according to Kashkin, "It is just pointless. My account is flagged as restricted and, in order to unflag it, I have to provide a proof that I don't live in Crimea. I am in fact a Russian citizen with Crimean registration, I am physically in Crimea, and I am living in Crimea my entire life."
GitHub stated on their post regarding U.S. trade controls that U.S. sanctions apply to its online hosting service, GitHub.com, but its paid-for on-premise software -- aimed at enterprise users -- may be an option for users in those circumstances. In addition, they claim to be discussing with U.S. regulators about how to rectify the situation.
GitHub’s CEO, Nat Friedman shared his thoughts on having to follow the U.S. trade law in a tweet saying, “It is painful for me to hear how trade restrictions have hurt people. We have gone to great lengths to do no more than what is required by the law, but of course people are still affected. GitHub is subject to US trade law, just like any company that does business in the U.S. To comply with U.S. sanctions, we unfortunately had to implement new restrictions on private repos and paid accounts in Iran, Syria, and Crimea.”
Many consider using a virtual-private networks (VPN) to workaround the sanctions, however, GitHub stated that people in U.S. sanctioned countries are prohibited from using IP proxies, VPNs, or other methods to disguise their locations when accessing GitHub services. So far, there have been no reports of Chinese developers being cut off from accessing their GitHub account however some believe this may change in the near future.