GitHub Restricts Developers in Iran and Syria Following U.S. Sanctions

Posted on July 29, 2019 by Mehedi Hassan in Cloud, Dev, Microsoft with 26 Comments

GitHub users in Iran, Syria, and Crimea had access restricted to their own code over the weekend. The reason? U.S. sanctions.

Microsoft’s GitHub has started introducing new restrictions for developers in Iran, Syria, and Crimea following restrictions placed by the U.S. government. “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 US,” GitHub CEO Nat Friedman said on Twitter.

Friedman acknowledged the restriction after a viral Medium post criticised the company for blocking developers out without any warning, or providing developers with the option to backup their data beforehand. TechCrunch reports that the restrictions are placed on private repositories and paid accounts, meaning users with a private repository will either have to turn it into a public repository or have the repository disabled forever.

That is obviously not very convenient, but GitHub really doesn’t have any other choice as it’s simply following the U.S. trade laws. Friedman insisted that the restrictions were put in place based on a developer’s current residence and location, and not on nationality after the company was alleged to be discriminating against developers from these areas. GitHub is even providing developers with an appeal form in case they believe their account has been wrongfully restricted. It’s not allowing developers to use VPNs to get around the restriction, though.

“We’re not doing this because we want to; we’re doing it because we have to. GitHub will continue to advocate vigorously with governments around the world for policies that protect software developers and the global open source community,” Friedman later tweeted.

GitHub users from Iran and around the world are protesting against the restrictions, with some requesting GitHub to allow them to export private repositories without having then need to turn them into public repositories for privacy reasons.

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Comments (26)

26 responses to “GitHub Restricts Developers in Iran and Syria Following U.S. Sanctions”

  1. wright_is

    And, yet again, we see why international public clouds just don't work. Arbitrary actions by one government can louse it up for everyone else.

    National clouds and private clouds/local data seem to be the way forward... Splinternet here we come. :-(

  2. lvthunder

    I don't get the whole you locked us out of our data. Shouldn't those owners have the repository cloned somewhere (on a local computer or something).


    Also if you are in Iran why would you trust/use any company based in the USA?

    • christian.hvid

      In reply to lvthunder:

      To your first point, you're technically correct - since it's Git we're talking about here, developers will by definition have the repositories cloned on their local hard drives. Still, it's pretty arrogant to just lock up other people's property without warning. And my guess is that GitHub wasn't required to do that, they were just required to cease the business transactions (as evidenced by the fact that free tier is still available to Iranians and others).


      To your second point: without going into politics, I think it's fair to say that US foreign policy has been a bit unpredictable lately. For example, I wouldn't be surprised at all if my country was suddenly slammed with a trade embargo due to the A$AP Rocky thing. So that raises the question: why should anyone trust/use any company based in the USA?

      • IanYates82

        In reply to christian.hvid:

        Unpredictable is the word...


        But back to Github... Git != Github. Devs may not have all of their code cloned somewhere accessible. Plus, their repositories also have wikis, issue trackers, release pipelines, etc. Painful to lose.


        However it's not like Github has a huge choice in choosing to stick to the law. People were saying "oh we'll go to Bitbucket". That's owned by Atlassian, which is Australian. Here in Australia we're not slack in following the US into whatever quagmire is going on. We've also got these super-invasive laws where we just stopped short of compelling employees working for a company to force them to introduce a backdoor into a product (or exfiltrate data), without letting their employer know - the laws now seem to allow all of that and I reckon the government will have a crack and getting their employee compulsion powers back again.


        The Internet broke down so many world barriers. Unfortunately it's a leaky abstraction and geopolitics is breaking through.

      • lvthunder

        In reply to christian.hvid:

        I wouldn't say it's unpredictable. It's really simple. If you don't screw with us we will be friends, but if you do then all bets are off.


        The president uses trade embargoes very selectively. Now trade tariffs are another thing. I doubt the A$AP Rocky thing is that high on the presidents radar really unless I'm missing something.

  3. christian.hvid

    Locking down repositories without providing a way to retrieve a backup is similar to freezing a foreign bank account or seizing a foreign cargo ship. But actions like these are usually targeted at specific people or organizations, not just anyone who happens to reside in a certain country.

  4. Daekar

    If people weren't upset by it, they wouldn't be very effective sanctions, would they?


    Newsflash! People don't like thing specially intended for them to not like! Details at 11.


    This is a non-story.

    • skane2600

      In reply to Daekar:

      As is the case with most sanctions, the regime is unaffected but the people suffer.

      • Daekar

        In reply to skane2600:

        The regime is composed of and supported by people, and relies on their labor and ability to produce useful products and services in order to continue it's own function. It is virtually impossible to affect only the government of any country without any impact on its people unless you first specifically delineate who qualifies as "of the government" and who doesn't (is the guy who works the desk at the DMV "of the government?") and then personally target those individuals for attack or assassination. Anything else which affects the actual functioning of government would also affect the people, and it's arguable that even the personal targeting strategy would affect the people in different ways.


        There is no way to act against the leaders of a group without affecting the group.

        • skane2600

          In reply to Daekar:

          The US is a much freer country than these regimes are but if someone decided they wanted to do a regime change in the US and remove Trump outside of the ballot box, how practical would that be? There's this naive belief that if people in those countries don't like their government they can change it. It's not going to happen and added suffering at the hand of the US just makes it less likely. People suffer but the regime remains.

          • lvthunder

            In reply to skane2600:

            If that were the case the US would be controlled by the British Crown.

          • Daekar

            In reply to skane2600:

            That perspective flies in the face of the previous two centuries of history, particularly the history of the Middle East since WWII. They can and have achieved regime change multiple times across that region. Also, your last sentence is missing a critical part. It should be "People suffer but the regime remains despite its decreased ability to project its power and affect the rest of the world." Sanctions are not put in place, despite rhetoric you might hear, for the good of the people in the sanctioned country. They're put in place for everybody else, particularly the sanctioning country or countries.


            The suffering of a population as a result of actions against a corrupt or hostile government is not a reason for inaction against such government. If that were so, we should've let Germany win WWI and Japan the subsequent war which would have broken out even in the absence of Nazi-controlled Germany.


            If someone wanted to remove Trump, it would take one bullet, and it wouldn't even be that hard if you were a good shot at longer range. I work with several people (non-military) that can put a 200 grain bullet into a milk jug at 1000 yards or more if they have a decent rest. His hair might be big, but it's not that big.

            • skane2600

              In reply to Daekar:

              I missed the part where the US had economic sanctions against Germany and Japan. I was taught that Japan did a sneak attack against Pearl Harbor and consequently we declared war against them and eventually Germany. Not in the slightest similar to this situation.

              • Daekar

                In reply to skane2600:

                Don't be intentionally obtuse. Those details have nothing to do with the comparison.

                • skane2600

                  In reply to Daekar:

                  The details matter and when the details diverge significantly the comparison fails.

                • Daekar

                  In reply to skane2600:

                  Certainly, when they're relevant. In this case, the comparison is putting the Allied defense of occupied counties and offensives into Axis territory in the context of the suffering caused to the Axis civilian populations, which was considerable.

                  In that case, the fact that the Axis civilian populations suffered as a result of actions against the Axis governments was not a reason to abstain from such actions, and this principle applies whether we are talking about the trade embargoes/blockade put in place to cripple Axis economies or something like carpet bombing population centers.

                  Obviously, one would prefer to draw the line at the former, but the principle is identical.

                  And yes, the US did put in place sanctions prior to entering the war, and also provided significant resources to Allied nations. Things are never as black and white as your history textbook tells you.

                • skane2600

                  In reply to Daekar:

                  The bottom line is that we won the war so any suffering was not in vain. The sanctions continue to fail and thus the suffering serves no worthy purpose.

                • Daekar

                  In reply to skane2600:

                  What makes you think they're failing?

                • skane2600

                  In reply to Daekar:

                  Iran has become more aggressive since Trump decided to not live up to the commitment the US made (a common Trump scenario from his business dealings). The government of Syria is now in a better position than it has been in years.


                  So what's your evidence that sanctions are working?

                • wright_is

                  In reply to skane2600:

                  I think that is the core of the problem, Trump has just shown that it is irrelevant what the US says or does.

                  They agreed to climate control, Trump walked out of it. They agreed to certain provisions with Iran, and walked out of it. They agreed trade with Europe, and walked out of it. They agreed on trade with China, and walked out on it.

                  With the current embargos affecting people around the world - the fallout of the Huawei black listing was felt in Europe, Africa and Asia - it just shows us you shouldn't rely on products or technology coming out of the USA, or any company that has a presence in the USA.

  5. illuminated

    Github? Why not block access to cat videos on youtube. That would show them!

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