U.S. Export Laws Block Access to Website on Crisis in Darfur

Posted by at 10:31 pm on April 23, 2007
Category: SanctionsSudan

Google Earth Crisis in Darfur ProjectThe United States Holocaust Museum joined with Google Earth in a project called “Crisis in Darfur” to document the genocide in Darfur. The project pinpoints, through a series of overlays on a Google Earth map, the precise location where each of the massacres in Darfur has occurred.

According to the Holocaust Museum’s website on the Crisis in Darfur project:

Crisis in Darfur enables more than 200 million Google Earth users worldwide to visualize and better understand the genocide currently unfolding in Darfur, Sudan.

Unless you happen to live in Sudan.

As reported in this article in the Sudan Times, soon after the Crisis in Darfur project came online, aid workers in Sudan reported that they were unable to download Google Earth, which is required to view the project. An email from a Google spokesperson to the Sudan Times reporter revealed the reason:

In accordance with US export controls and economic sanctions regulations, we are unable to permit the download of Google Earth in Sudan.

The spokesperson is right. The current Sudan sanctions program prohibits the export of Google Earth software to Sudan. Because of the interactive features of software, it is hard to argue that the information exception applies.

Needless to say, the absurd results of economic sanctions in this instance are clear. The major beneficiary from the prohibition of downloading Google Earth in Sudan, to the extent the ban is successful, is the government of Sudan, which is busy trying to deny or minimize the extent of the catastrophe unfolding in Darfur.

On the other hand, the application of the Sudan sanctions to the download of Google Earth also illustrates the futility of sanctions in this regard. An Internet surfer in Sudan can easily use an anonymous proxy service to conceal the geographic location of the download request.

Excuse me, OFAC, you have a call on line 3. It’s the 21st Century calling.

(Thanks to reader Creighton Chin who sent me a copy of the Sudan Times article.)


Bookmark and Share

Copyright © 2007 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)


Of course, the Janjaweed were a little miffed at the block, too. Here the Sudan government had helped them paint helicopter gunships a nice bright, “aid-worker” white, and all they needed was a little extra satellite help in targeting refugee camps. Oh well, guess they’ll have to find them the old fashioned way.
(where’s that sarcasm font……)

Comment by Scott K. on April 24th, 2007 @ 7:19 am

Once again, a violation of the First Amendment, not to mention 50 USC 1702(b)(3) [the Berman Amendment as expanded by the Free Trade in Ideas Act]. Wilst not someone rid us of these troublesome OFAC priests?

Comment by Mike Deal on April 24th, 2007 @ 5:41 pm

Scott – If you’ll take a look at the areas of Darfur covered by Google Earth, you can see that it’s not sufficiently detailed to assist targeting.

Mike – As you know, many people at OFAC are conscientious government employees who are simply enforcing the policies that others set for them.

Comment by Clif Burns on April 24th, 2007 @ 7:45 pm


Hence the need for a sarcasm font.

Comment by Scott K. on April 25th, 2007 @ 7:05 am

Scott — oops, I didn’t see the font reference. I had just come back from breaking up a fight in the comments to another post so I was a little distracted 🙂

Comment by Clif Burns on April 25th, 2007 @ 7:07 am

No problem.

Comment by Scott K. on April 25th, 2007 @ 8:15 am

I don’t think I’m revealing state secrets when I share that I once endured a heated debate over the distinction under Berman between dubbing and subtitling. Talk about a distinction without a difference…. One can’t get too offended by potshots over these ironic situations. And compared to the ITAR, these rules are models of clarity and restraint….

Comment by FormerOFAC on April 26th, 2007 @ 11:20 am

Well, I’ve always had problems with use of IEEPA Sec. 1702(a) for controlling trade. I know its derivation is from Sec. 5(b) of TWEA: I was working on the Hill at the time and attended the hearings and mark-up on the House side. The staff director of the international trade subcommittee had been one of my undergraduate instructors, a great guy to whom I am indebted, but its pretty clear that the choice of that language was based upon a memo from DoJ that said 5(b) was the source of all authority. That memo was just flat out wrong. On its face, authority to control trade under TWEA comes from Sec. 3, and trade is separately defined in Sec. 2. If you go back to the debate in 1917 and legislative history of the wartime amendments in 1942, its pretty clear that the sponsors of the legislation looked to Sec 3 as the authority to control trade with enemy states and their allies, and in the 1942 debates there are clear statements that they looked to the export control statute passed in 1940 as authority for regulating trade with the rest of the world. Sec. 5(b) was originally intended to cover only title, possession and movement of property in which enemy had an “interest”. Even given the broadest definition of property, and the broadest definition of “interest”, the canons of construction suggest that given the clear language of Sec. 3, as well as the definition of trade in Sec. 2, Sec. 5(b) applied to something other than trade, or else Sec. 3 was total surplusage. This construction is supported by the legislative history of 1917 and 1942. Given that IEEPA was title 2 of a bill that also amended TWEA and EAA of 69, the language of 1702(a) ought to be construed in relation to the language of and original intent of TWEA.

Comment by Mike Deal on April 28th, 2007 @ 11:01 am

[…] May 8, 2007Somali refugees (and others) enter Google Earth Immediately after we launched the Darfur layers, somebody pointed out that Google Earth isn’t accessible in Sudan. It’s not because of the Sudanese government (for a change) but because of US sanctions – much more detail at the Export Law Blog, and of course at Ogle Earth. This was something that I had mentioned earlier in the development of the project, but hopefully more people now realise how much OFAC sanctions affect very basic humanitarian projects. […]

Comment by humanitarian.info » Somali refugees (and others) enter Google Earth on May 8th, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

[…] The issue here is whether providers of Internet services should be required to take steps to determine the location of the computer requesting those services. As we previously noted, Google Earth took such steps to prevent download of the Google Earth software to computers located in Sudan. Should this be done by everyone providing services over the Internet? Did Western Services have an obligation to do a reverse DNS look-up before allowing a user to download a registration key? Let me hear your thoughts on this in the comments. Permalink No Comments […]

Comment by ExportLawBlog » Internet Download From Iran Leads to Criminal Prosecution in U.S. on May 9th, 2007 @ 9:50 pm