GitHub’s importance to software developers can’t be overstated. In the space of a decade it has become central to millions of people’s professional lives. For it to be taken away, then, must be incredibly hard to take. Not only does it cut you off from your work, it also cuts your identity as a developer.
But that’s what appears to have happened today to Hamed Saeedi, an Iranian software developer.
Writing on Medium, Saeedi revealed that he today received an email from GitHub explaining that his account has been restricted “due to U.S. trade controls law restrictions.” As Saeedi notes, he is not a paying GitHub customer, only using their free services, which makes the fact he has been clocked by the platform surprising.
Does GitHub really think a developer is developing dangerous software in a public repo?
Digging down into the terms and conditions around U.S. trade laws, Saeedi found a paragraph that states the platform cannot:
“…be used for services prohibited under applicable export control laws, including purposes related to the development, production, or use of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons or long range missiles or unmanned aerial vehicles.”
The implication – in Saeedi’s reading at least – is that he is using GitHub for precisely that. But the impact of this move is massive for Saeedi. The incident has echoes of when Slack terminated Iranian users’ accounts at the end of 2018, but, as one Twitter user noted, this is even more critical because “GitHub is hosting all the efforts of a programmer/engineer.”
How has GitHub and the developer community responded?
GitHub hasn’t, as of writing, responded publicly to the incident. However, it would be reasonable to assume that the organization would lean heavily on existing trades sanctions against Iran as an explanation for the actions. The ethical and moral implications of that notwithstanding, it’s a move that would ensure that would protect the company.
Given increased scrutiny on the geopolitical impact of technology, and current Iran/U.S. tensions, perhaps it isn’t that surprising. But it has received condemnation from a number of developers on Twitter.
One commented on the need to break up GitHub’s monopoly, while another suggested that the incident emphasised the importance of #deletegithub – a small movement that sees GitHub (and other ostensibly ‘free’ software) as compromised and failing to live up to the ideals of free and open source software.
Mikhail Novikov, a developer part of the GatsbyJS team, had words of solidariy for Saeedi, reading the situation in the context of the U.S. President’s rhetoric towards Iran:
That really sucks. The way american tech industry is silently enforcing Trump's vendetta against Iran is very sad. Especially since it's regular people that suffer.
— Mikhail Novikov (@freiksenet) July 25, 2019
It appears that other Iranian users have been affected in the same way – however, it remains unclear to what extent GitHub has been restricting Iranian accounts.