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Report: Syrian Government Bans The iPhone

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Friday, December 2 2011

In the latest confirmation that video, and especially mobile video, has become "weaponized," the Syrian government has banned the iPhone, according to Haaretz.com:

"Syrian authorities have banned the use of the iPhone, further tightening curbs on activists using the device to expose government violence against pro-democracy protesters, the Lebanese website Al Nashara reported Friday.

Syrian activists based in Beirut provided dpa with a copy of a ban they said was issued by the Customs Department of the Syrian Finance Ministry."

As a recent PBS documentary "Syria Undercover" documented, mobile media is one of the primary tools that anti-government activists there have used to organize, and to record the atrocities committed by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Indeed, it was a YouTube video of the mutilated body of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib that fueled anti-government protests earlier this year.

It's unclear why the ban is based on a brand. One presumes that the ban extends to any kind of smartphone with a camera.

Syria's ban of the iPhone adds to the current debate underway in the United States over the use of surveillance technologies, and the control that states should exert over their proliferation around the world.

Blue Coat Systems of Sunnyvale, ca. recently acknowledged that its technology is being used by the Syrian government to block access to information on the internet over there. The company has said that it thought the equipment was going to be used in Iraq.

Rep. Chris Smith is re-introducing legislation that would ban U.S. companies from exporting internet filtering and surveillance equipment to regimes deemed to be repressive by the U.S. government.

Perhaps there should be some sort of provision stuck in there to encourage the smuggling in of cameras and smartphones to repressive regimes instead.

Update: Ethan Zuckerman , who researches and studies the technologies of free expression and censorship at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, tells techPresident that both Burma/Myanmar, and North Korea, have at various points banned smartphones.