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July 29, 2019updated 30 Jul 2019 9:07am

GitHub Pulls Plug on Iranian Repos, Sparks Outcry from Developers

"Availability in U.S. sanctioned countries and territories will be restricted"

By CBR Staff Writer

GitHub has abruptly blocked access to private code repositories and paid accounts run by developers or companies in Iran, Cuba and Syria as part of US trade sanctions on those countries. The move caused an outcry as developers who had been working on projects for months or longer unexpectedly found that they had lost their work.

The CEO of the Microsoft-owned company, Nat Friedman, said that he regretted having to make the decision but that the company was subject to US trade law and could not run the risk of being held to be non-compliant with ongoing US government sanctions against Crimea, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

Some 31 million developers use GitHub, which is home to over 90 million repositories. The site has a large global user base, with 80 percent of contributors being outside the US. It does not provide a country-by-country breakdown and it was not immediately clear how many repositories had been shuttered unexpectedly as a result of the move.

GitHub’s CEO claimed on Twitter that public repos remained open to everyone, but was hit by a flurry of angry responses from devs in the affected countries saying that they were unable to download their work and even access public repos. (A complaint by Iranian developer Hamed Saeedi Fard, a GitHub user since 2012, went viral on Medium.) Frustration focussed heavily on the lack of prior warning, something Friedman said would have been illegal under the sanctions regime.

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GitHub users by country. Credit: GitHub

GitHub, which was bought by Microsoft ifor $7.5 billion in a deal that closed in October 2018, said in a Q&A published on its website: “As U.S. trade controls laws evolve, we will continue to work with U.S. regulators about the extent to which we can offer free code collaboration services to developers in sanctioned markets.

“We believe that offering those free services supports U.S. foreign policy of encouraging the free flow of information and free speech in those markets.”

The company says it has made a way for people to download their private repos.

“Availability Will Be Restricted” 

The company added: “Availability in U.S. sanctioned countries and territories will be restricted, however certain GitHub services may be available for free individual and free organizational accounts.

“This includes limited access to GitHub public repository services (such as access to GitHub Pages and public repositories used for open source projects), for personal communications only, and not for commercial purposes. The restriction also includes suspended access to private repository services and paid services (such as availability of private organizational accounts and GitHub Marketplace services).”

Slack made a similar move in December last year, again causing an outcry after deactivating accounts not just for people in affected countries, but also some who had visited countries on the sanctions list but who were US citizens.

See also: “Micron CEO: We’re Still Selling to Huawei”


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