Development and collaboration platform GitHub has begun blocking citizens in countries facing U.S. sanctions, despite operating on a framework that promotes decentralization

GitHub Banning Users

On July 26, reports emerged that Microsoft-owned GitHub was targeting and restricting users in countries that are facing trade sanctions by the United States. 

In one such example, Anatoliy Kashkin, a 21-year-old Russian programmer living in Crimea, had his account suddenly restricted. The explanation by GitHub? Due to “U.S. trade holds.” In a more widespread use of power, the collaborative platform outright banned all Iranian users, turning their accounts to restricted and once again citing their policy on U.S. trade controls.

According to the policy, Crimea, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria are countries facing U.S. sanctions and their citizens on GitHub are at risk of having their accounts banned. The website provides developers with an appeal form to dispute the restrictions, but some have claimed there is little point attempting to jump through the hoops of authorization. 

Kashkin told ZDNet, 

“It is just pointless. My account is flagged as restricted and, in order to unflag it, I have to provide a proof that I don't live in Crimea. I am in fact a Russian citizen with Crimean registration, I am physically in Crimea, and I am living in Crimea my entire life.”

According to GitHub’s website, 

“Users are responsible for ensuring that the content they develop and share on complies with the U.S. export control laws, including the EAR (Export Administration Regulations) and the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR),”

Need for Decentralization 

Some developers are hopeful that GitHub will open a discussion with U.S. regulators to ease the restrictions placed on sanctioned-country users.

However, the severity of the crackdown on Iranian users has led to outlandish results. Hamed Saeedi, a developer based out of Iran, published to Medium his experience with GitHub after being banned over what he says they called “developing nuclear weapons.”

In a statement addressing the current situation, a spokesperson for GitHub was firm on the company’s commitment to maintaining full compliance with U.S. trade laws. However, the spokesperson also highlighted the website’s focus on promoting global collaboration,

“At the same time, GitHub's vision is to be the global platform for developer collaboration, no matter where developers reside. As a result, we take seriously our responsibility to examine government mandates thoroughly to be certain that users and customers are not impacted beyond what is required by law.”

For now, it appears developers in the affected countries will be forced to find an alternative platform that promotes true decentralization. A blockchain-based GitHub alternative, according to some on social media, would be the perfect fit. The cryptocurrency ecosystem already has alternatives for the likes of popular browsers and social media platforms, so a decentralized GitHub alternative wouldn’t be much of a surprise.