Syria found violating US trade embargo

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Syrians check e-mails, chat and connect to their Facebook accounts at an Internet cafe, in Damascus, Syria. Several media watchdogs believe Syria is filtering Internet traffic in order to stave off unrest following popular uprising across the country. Photo - Muzaffar Salman/AP

Heightened media scrutiny and investigations launched by the US State Department have revealed that Syria is using Internet filtering technology produced by Blue Coat Systems,a California-based company, to aid its crackdown on pro-democracy activists.

Syria faces an international embargo and is prohibited from buying US technology. The Internet ‘filtering’ devices – which can block websites or record when people visit them – are thought to be shipped to Dubai late last year, destined for a department of the Iraqi government. Reports suggest the devices mysteriously made their way to Syria. Questions are being raised as to how US-manufactured goods end up in Syria which is forbidden under US laws since 2004.

Telecomix, a tech activist group, released electronic records in early October quoting tech experts who proved Syriawas using Blue Coat technology to prevent the public from accessing particular websites. Jacob Appelbaum, a tech expert and computer science researcher highlighted the Blue Coat and Syria connection: “Every IP address in all of the information released is registered in Syria,” he claimed.

By using the devices, the Syrian regime can block information about its abuses from getting out of the country and monitor web activity. The situation in the country is severe ever since protests against the dictatorship started. Human rights groups routinely accuse forces loyal to the Baathist regime of killing more than 4,000 people since the outbreak of unrest in March.

TURNCOATS

A Blue Coat spokesman says Blue Coat had not sold its products to Syria. The company says it alerted US authorities in recent days about the “improper transfer” and is cooperating with government inquiries. The company says it shipped 14 of its ProxySG 9000 Internet-filtering appliances from Rotterdam to Dubai in late 2010, an order estimated around $700,000. It believes 13 of the appliances are being used to censor parts of the Syrian Internet. What happened to the 14th device stays unclear.

George A. Lopez, professor of peace studies at Notre Dame University and an expert on sanctions, said in an email that any direct sale to Syria would be in violation of US law. But if Syria acquired the technology through an intermediary, Blue Coat is legally protected – provided their direct sales of the technology were accompanied by end-user agreements prohibiting any resale to Syria.

According toWall Street Journal,Blue Coat technology has been used in the past byother non-democratic regimes, includingBahrain, Qatar, and the UAE. Other foreign regimes use Western technology to block Internet access. Foryears now, companies like Netsweeper (based in Canada) have sold software to countries like the UAE and Yemen. Other Middle Eastern countriesincluding Kuwait,Oman,Qatar, and Saudi Arabiaalso use Western-developed filtering technology.

China also uses technology provided by Cisco, an American networking equipment giant, to power its filter, which is referred to as the “Great Firewall” – name given for its ability to block websites and web traffic. But none of these countries are subject to harsh US sanctions that Syria is facing since the last seven years.

(Sources Motherjones.com, Wall Street Journal)

Written by Farhat Jahan; Edited by Moign Khawaja

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