Western economic sanctions aimed at Russia have had a disproportionately negative effect on Crimea's IT industry, writes Sergey Kozlovsky. The sanctions, imposed after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, have forced Visa and MasterCard to remove support for bank cards in the region, Apple to block apps from Crimean iOS users, and Google to cut off access to the Play store and to AdSense and AdWords accounts. The effect of sanctions on users and developers of technology often harm the very people they're intended to help.
Along with our colleagues at Access, Global Voices Advocacy, and others, EFF has signed on to a letter urging the Office of Foreign Assets Control to protect the free flow of information by issuing a General License for Crimea as it has done for other countries like Syria and Iran. A General License would authorize the provision of services, software, and hardware incident to personal communication over the Internet.
As our colleagues at Access have explained in a blog post:
Without urgent action from OFAC, these restrictions are likely to foreshadow greater impediments on the free flow of information to Crimea, and make the removal of these sanctions policies more difficult in the future. Imposing barriers on access to American platforms will only push users into services provided by Russian companies. As we have seen from the start of the conflict, these services are highly controlled by Russian authorities and have actively stifled independent channels of information through aggressive censorship and surveillance. That’s not in the interest of Internet users or international human rights, and it’s not the intent of the policies. OFAC should act immediately to protect the free flow of information by issuing a general license authorizing the provision of services, software, and hardware incident to personal communication over the internet in Crimea.