From brick and mortar block captains or neighborhood watch teams, to more advanced internet snooping technology, repressive regimes such as Cuba use whatever tool they can to maintain control. When it comes to the cyber world, U.S. law restricts for export a lot of hardware and software that can be used to do that. It upsets certain people in Cuba, especially people that are directly tied to the government or who oppose current U.S. policy.
For example, a professor and “journalist” with the University of Havana recently expressed frustration that Google’s popular Tour Builder will no longer be accessible in Cuba. She writes that Tour Builder is not “available for Cuban users due to the restrictions of the economic embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba. Currently, Google Earth, another one of Google’s services unavailable to Cuba, allows users to virtually travel to anywhere on earth.” Well, yes and no. She likely has no idea why the restrictions are in place. The government has been lying to the Cuban people for close to six decades.
The United States restricts the export of certain software and hardware to Cuba, and other nations, to keep certain applications out of the hands of bad actors . There are human rights considerations. Anti-terrorism. In the case of Cuba, there is money-making potential that the regime could easily exploit by being allowed to access some of Google’s more lucrative platforms. And, of course, there are the national security considerations.
Do these restrictions, known as export controls, work? I’d say in the cyber world it probably makes it harder for the regime, but regime officials and operatives who visit and live the U.S., and other countries, likely work around the restrictions. Which is why it is essential that Google, and other providers, control who gets what. One indicator that the restrictions work is the target country “complaint factor“. Regime officials are upset and complaining. The controls work. And, if you knew how the Cuban regime treats opposition leaders, you would agree that the restrictions are worth every penny to comply with and enforce. Fom a national security standpoint, even more so.
The biggest censor of the Internet and Internet services in Cuba is not Google, or any U.S. service provider, but the Cuban regime. Just ask world-renowned Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez. Even lawyers I have talked to in Cuba, people whose very profession involves words and the expression of words, are downright frustrated with the Cuban government’s censorship of the web. To help fill these gaps, in October of this year Google’s “think tank” Google Ideas hosted a summit with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Gen Next Foundation to discuss ways to make the Internet more accessible to people living in repressed countries.
While more needs done to increase the spread of these tools in Cuba, and in other parts of the world, easing economic sanctions and export controls is not the answer. I’ve advised clients about complying with these laws and regulations. Invariably, these folks come up with many great (and legal) ideas to make these services more accessible to people who could really use it. With a little ingenuity, the oppressed people can use them and not the regime against its own people.
If you’re reading this post in the US of A, give thanks, especially during the holiday season. You have the ability to read, study, and otherwise do things billions of people cannot. If you’re obeying the laws, you do all of this without the government meddling or snooping or otherwise telling you what to do. Yes. While our system has some kinks, it is not the monster some in the media and the international left make it out to be. Something else to give thanks for.