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Should open source sniff the geopolitical wind and ban itself in China and Russia?

In 2022, information technology collided with geopolitics like never before. After Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine, many nations decided that Vladimir Putin's regime and populace should be denied access to technology and even to services from the companies that make and wield it.

https://www.theregister.com/, Jan. 01, 2023 – 

The USA, meanwhile, extended its restrictions on technology exports to China, citing its belligerence and repression of human rights.

The bans appear to have been somewhat effective: China and Russia both started efforts to replicate technology they could no longer easily, or legally, obtain.

Yet plenty of sophisticated top-tier tech still crossed their borders because open source code still flows around the world unimpeded.

Which got me wondering: should open source contributors, and the organizations that facilitate their work, consider the positions their governments adopt? Should they be concerned that their efforts are being used for nefarious purposes? Might they be restrained from doing so? If they did want to limit distribution, how would that even work, license wise?

I asked the Linux Foundation and The Apache Foundation to comment on these issues.

The Linux Foundation declined to comment and then did not reply when I asked why it had declined to comment. The Apache Foundation did not reply.

The US government, however, is in no doubt that open source projects can and should be subject to its sanctions: in August 2022 the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added a tool called "Tornado Cash" to its Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List (SDN list), a document that names entities with which US citizens are not permitted to do business.

The SDN list names terrorists, narcotics traffickers, and organizations known to support America's enemies.

Tornado Cash is a "mixer" that improves the anonymity of cryptocurrency and on GitHub bills itself as a "privacy solution for Ethereum." The US government says North Korea likes the privacy the tech affords and Pyongyang has used Tornado Cash to launder millions to funnel into weapons development.

GitHub implemented the US Treasury's sanctions by removing the Tornado Cash repository, before restoring it in read-only mode.

Some in the open source community have also addressed the ethical implications of FOSS.

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