TIME Ferguson

Twitter Users Mock Photos of Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson’s Injuries

An undated evidence photograph made available by the St. Louis County prosecutors office on Nov. 25, 2014 shows Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson during his medical examination after the shooting of Michael Brown.
During the medical examination, bruising was discovered on Wilson's cheek where he says Brown punched him in the face St. Louis County

After the medical examiner's photographs of Wilson after the shooting were released

Twitter users have taken to the hashtag #ThingsMoreHurtThanDarrenWilson to express frustration over the photographic evidence of Darren Wilson’s injuries following his shooting of Michael Brown.

The photographs of Wilson, released Monday evening by the St. Louis prosecuting attorney following the late-night announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict him, offer a closer look into Wilson’s claims that he feared for his life before shooting and killing Brown.

In the photos, Wilson appears to have sustained bruises to the back of his neck and his jaw, which some people do not believe indicate that Brown posed as much of a danger as Wilson indicated in his newly released grand jury testimony.

In an interview that aired Tuesday evening, Wilson said he has “a clean conscience” regarding the Aug. 9 killing and insisted “I know I did my job right.”

MORE: Ferguson Erupts Again After Cop Cleared in Killing

TIME legal

The Supreme Court Is About to Make a Big Decision About Facebook Free Speech

Facebook Threats Supreme Court Case Elonis
Till Jacket—Getty Images/Photononstop RM

The case could have big implications for how we use social media

The Supreme Court on Monday will consider whether violent language posted on social media is covered by the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.

The case, Elonis v. United States, hinges around the question of whether a Facebook message can be considered a “true threat,” or a threat a reasonable person would determine to be real. That would be an important distinction, because “true threats” don’t get First Amendment coverage. But it won’t be an easy problem to solve: While it can be easy to call a threat “true” if it’s given verbally, making that call gets harder when threats are posted online, where they lack the context, tone and other indicators of intent present in verbal communication. It’s also arguably easier to make threats online, especially if it’s done anonymously.

What happened?

A lower court had sentenced Pennsylvania man Anthony Elonis to about four years in federal prison over several Facebook posts threatening his estranged wife. The posts included, among other things, raps about slitting his wife’s throat and about how her protection order against him wouldn’t be enough to stop a bullet.

A sample:

There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.

But how is that not a “true threat?”

Elonis contends his posts weren’t a threat to his wife but rather a therapeutic form of expression. It’s commonly accepted that violent images are often part of rap music and other media, and artistic expression is protected under the First Amendment, explaining Elonis’ legal strategy. Still, the issue of whether Elonis had the intent to threaten is not necessary for a threat to be deemed a “true threat.” That requires only for a reasonable person to believe a threat is authentic.

“The dividing line here is whether we’re judging the threat based on the intent of the speaker, or on the reaction of the people who read it and would’ve felt threatened. That’s really the key question,” said William McGeveran, a law professor at the University of Minnesota.

What if the court upholds Elonis’ conviction?

Several experts agree that such a decision could stifle freedom of speech online and offline, particularly among artists. If the court rules against Elonis, artists could be more hesitant to share anything that could be perceived as threatening — a slippery slope. On the other hand, such a ruling could increase the number of online harassment cases aggressively pursued by law enforcement. And there could also be a censorship effect on social media companies like Facebook.

“You have the potential for creating a chilling effect both on the part of speakers, but possibly even more on the part of entities that host potentially threatening speech,” said Paul Levy, an attorney at the Public Citizen Litigation Group. “If intent [to threat] isn’t needed [to prosecute], then it seems that the Facebooks of the world have to worry that they, too, can be prosecuted. It could have a serious censoring effect.”

What if the court rules in Elonis’ favor?

Some experts agree this is probably what the Court will do. In the past, the Supreme Court has demonstrated a commitment to protecting all kinds of speech, however vile or unpopular, by citing the First Amendment to protect everything from a filmmaker’s “animal crush” abuse videos to the Westboro Baptist Church’s anti-gay public speech.

“The First Amendment is one of the strongest protections of free speech in the whole world, and it’s a very rare thing to have a law that actually makes it a crime to express certain ideas,” said Marcia Hoffman, an attorney and special counsel to digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

But if the Court chooses to overturn Elonis’ conviction, that move might not provide a clearer definition of which online threats constitute a “real threat.” That would leave us legally in the dark when it comes to abuse over the Internet.

“Society is still struggling to really figure out how the Internet works and how it affects people, both users of the Internet and subjects of the speech on the Internet,” said William Marcell, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “I think the court might want to buy a little bit more time to see if a threat over the Internet is really as serious as one face-to-face.”

TIME legal

Your Phone Bill Could Go Up to Fund Schools’ Wi-Fi

California schools use blended learning to teach students
Fourth and fifth grade students at Rocketship SI Se Puede, a charter, public elementary school, use the internet and traditional classroom learning in one big open classroom, on Feb. 18, 2014 in San Jose, Calif. Christian Science Monitor/Getty

The FCC is mulling a fee hike to help bring Wi-Fi to more schools

Should Americans be asked to pay a little more in phone bill fees to help fund better Internet connections in public schools? That’s essentially what Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed Monday.

If you have a landline or mobile phone, then you probably already pay a small fee every month towards what’s called the Universal Service Fund. The USF is essentially a pool of money created in 1997 as a bulwark against market failures leading to poor Internet access in rural and low-income communities. While the USF is paid for by telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T, those companies often pass their contributions onto consumers in the form of fees on your monthly bill.

Wheeler’s idea would hike the USF fees by about $1.90 a year for the average phone subscriber, the FCC estimates, with the money going to a $1.5 billion increase for a program designed specifically to subsidize faster Internet connections in more of the country’s public schools.

The FCC has been reworking that program, called E-Rate, to shift its focus from funding old-school technologies to modern ones like high-speed wireless access, which many observers say is sorely lacking in many of the country’s schools. Almost 70% of school districts say none of their schools meet the FCC’s long-term connectivity targets, the agency said Monday, with 58% of districts pinning the problem on cost. That situation, some have warned, could make students less competitive later in life. Closing that so-called “broadband gap” has been a priority of the Obama administration, which in June of last year announced a program designed to get broadband access to 99% of American students by 2017 — and E-Rate is a big part of meeting that goal.

The agency is framing the fee hike as a way to ensure that more students have access to the kinds of high-tech learning solutions that could make them — and the nation — more competitive down the road. “While the impact on consumers will be small, the impact on children, teachers, local communities and American competitiveness will be significant,” the FCC says in a fact sheet about the proposal. The agency has also promised to make E-Rate spending more transparent, so Americans get a better idea of where those phone bill fees are going.

Still, the FCC can’t unilaterally raise the fees you wind up seeing on your phone bill. Wheeler’s proposal will first have to clear a public comment period before being voted upon by himself and the agency’s four commissioners. However, given how expanding Internet access in schools is a top Obama administration priority and the FCC’s Democratic commissioners outnumber their Republican counterparts 3-2, it’s a safe bet the agency will move forward with the plan, barring any public outrage over it.

TIME legal

Comcast Just Trolled Us All on Net Neutrality

National Cable and Telecommunications Association Cable Show
The Comcast Corp. logo is seen as Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast Corp., right, speaks during a news conference at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) Cable Show in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Comcast says it agrees with President Obama on net neutrality. It doesn't.

Oh, Comcast.

The country’s largest Internet provider wants you to know that it “agrees with the President’s principles on net neutrality,” as a headline on a Tuesday afternoon blog post from EVP David Cohen reads. Net neutrality is the idea that all Internet content should be treated equally in terms of speed, a concept that’s in jeopardy because of a Supreme Court decision at the beginning of this year that struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 Open Internet rules enforcing it.

It’s an attention-grabbing headline from Comcast, a company that net neutrality advocates are making out to be among the most nefarious of the bad guys in the ongoing open Internet debate. Right off the bat, it looks like Comcast is agreeing with President Obama, who on Monday unexpectedly came out in favor of reclassifying broadband Internet as a utility. That’s a move big telecoms like Comcast should hate, because it would give the Federal government more authority to regulate their business. So what’s the deal?

It turns out Comcast’s post is just clickbait.

Cohen’s post claims Comcast agrees with Obama’s goals for an open Internet — no blocking content, no slowing down content, more transparency about network practices and no paid fast lanes. Cohen goes on to say that Comcast disagrees with the President on how those rules should be enforced. There’s a wide gulf here: Obama only made news Monday because he called for the Internet to be reclassified under Title II of the Communications Act, a bold move that would categorize Internet providers as “common carriers” and trigger an all-out legislative and judicial war between telecoms, the FCC and advocacy groups.

Comcast, meanwhile, says the Internet should fall under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which gives the government far less authority to regulate Comcast’s business. So there’s no real agreement here at all.

That aside, the problem with Comcast’s Title II/Section 706 logic is that the FCC tried to use non-Title II authority to enforce its Open Internet rules starting back in 2010. But the courts ruled that wasn’t a valid approach, because the agency had previously and explicitly decided not to classify broadband under Title II — meaning the agency starved itself of the regulatory power it would need to legally enforce those rules. Since that ruling, the FCC under Chairman Tom Wheeler has been scrambling to find a way to enforce the Open Internet rules without running afoul of the courts.

Comcast, in its blog post, maintains that the courts left the FCC a way of doing that without triggering the Title II nuclear option — but the reality is that scenario is looking increasingly unlikely. Instead, many observers, including the President, see the FCC’s best path forward as reclassifying broadband providers as common carriers under Title II, but practice what’s called “forbearance,” or use only the regulatory power afforded under Title II the agency deems necessary to enforce its Open Internet rules. How comfortable you feel with that idea, of course, entirely depends on how much you trust a government agency to practice regulatory restraint.

It’s also worth pointing out that Comcast’s blog post makes it a point to advertise that it already practices the Open Internet rules for which Obama’s arguing — but it’s also legally obligated to do so through 2018 as a condition of its merger with NBCUniversal, a fact that’s missing from the post. Comcast also makes a dubious-at-best claim that it doesn’t “prioritize Internet traffic or have paid fast lanes,” even though Netflix is paying Comcast (and, since, other Internet Service Providers) to more quickly deliver Netflix’s content to Comcast subscribers. Whether or not the Comcast/Netflix deal violates “net neutrality” per se is a subject of debate, but that’s splitting hairs: It’s hard to see the arrangement as anything other than a “paid fast lane.”

TIME Net neutrality

All Your Questions About Obama’s Internet Plan Answered

President Obama wants a say in the future of the Internet

President Barack Obama on Monday leapt from the sidelines to the scrum of a fierce ongoing battle over the future of the Internet. Here’s what you should know about the President’s plans:

1. Before you start, why should I even care about this wonky “net neutrality” debate?
Because you’re using the Internet right now. It’s hard to overstate how big an impact whatever comes of this debate will have on the future of how we connect with one another, do business and so on.

2. What is net neutrality, anyway?
At its simplest, it’s the idea that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) should treat all Internet content as equal in terms of speed. It’s become a major issue because some of our biggest ISPs are also media companies, like Comcast, which now owns NBCUniversal. Advocates warn that opens up a scenario where an ISP like Comcast could slow down, say, Netflix, in an attempt to get users to view Comcast’s own video offerings instead, or the ISPs could ask Netflix for money to get its content to users faster than that of upstart rivals that have less cash on hand, stifling competition.

Others, however, say enforcing net neutrality puts an undue burden on businesses, arguing that the free market will keep things fair without the government getting involved — though broadband competition in the U.S. is severely lacking.

3. Why would Obama get involved now?
On the surface, it looks like the man who Obama appointed to run the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Tom Wheeler, isn’t as dedicated to net neutrality as Obama might like.

A little history: the FCC enacted net-neutrality rules for broadband Internet back in 2010, leading Verizon to quickly sue the agency. An appeals court struck down those rules in January, essentially saying that the FCC couldn’t enforce them without reclassifying broadband Internet as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, a move that would open those services to increased federal regulation. The FCC had the chance to get broadband under Title II’s umbrella back in 2002, but decided instead to call it an “information service,” a decision that made it much harder for the agency to regulate it.

All that history leaves Wheeler, a former telecoms lobbyist, with few options. He’s tried to craft a middle-of-the-road approach, but advocates say his idea would still let ISPs create so-called “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for Internet content, thereby violating net neutrality. Another recently leaked proposal had the FCC planning a sort of hybrid approach, but pretty much everybody on both sides of the debate hated the idea.

Obama is getting closely involved as the FCC has struggled to come up with a solution and, notably, after Democrats lost control of the Senate in this year’s midterm elections. Net neutrality was a major Obama campaign promise, and he’s likely thinking about what his legacy will be when his time as President is up about two years from now.

4. What’s Obama’s plan exactly?
Obama’s plan is fourfold: stop ISPs from blocking access to legal content; prevent them from “throttling” some types of Internet traffic; apply net-neutrality rules between ISPs and the rest of the Internet; and ban paid prioritization of content, which involves a content provider paying an ISP to get its offerings to your home faster than other content is delivered.

However, the courts have made it pretty clear the FCC can’t do any of this without first triggering the so-called “nuclear option” of reclassifying broadband as a common carrier utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. That’s why Obama is also calling for the agency to make that move.

4. Why is Title II the “nuclear option?”
It would set off a legal and legislative fight on a scale that hasn’t been seen in the tech policy world in decades. It’s pretty much a law of nature that big businesses will fight tooth and nail against any increased government regulation, and Title II is exactly that: a move that would allow the FCC more control over corporate behemoths like Comcast and Verizon. The lobbyist and advocate group emails were flying just as Obama’s statement went live, foreshadowing a major fight in Congress and probably the courts as well.

Notably, however, Obama is also calling on the FCC to practice “forbearance,” or the idea that the government shouldn’t enact regulations beyond what it sees necessary to enforce his four-point plan. Title II, however, would allow the FCC to enact regulations beyond Obama’s plans. Expect that point to be a major talking point as the debate develops — opponents of Title II reclassification will argue the federal government will, by its nature, enact as many regulations as it possibly can, adding undue burden to businesses. They’ll also say that federal regulation can’t possibly move fast enough to adequately govern something as ever changing as the Internet.

5. Does the President have any real power here?
The FCC is an independent agency, and although Wheeler was appointed by the President, what the FCC does is up to Wheeler and the agency’s four bipartisan commissioners. It’s hard to say how much of an impact the Oval Office will have on the decisionmaking process.

6. Where do we go from here?
Even though Obama can’t force the FCC to do anything, his getting involved in such a major way brings a wonky tech-policy debate right to the fore. Some 4 million Americans have already contacted the FCC to offer their opinions about net neutrality, setting an agency record. It’s easy to see more Americans will take the time to learn about — and form an opinion on — the debate now that the President’s made headlines about it.

One possible scenario is that Wheeler and Obama have this whole time been playing a little good cop/bad cop. Wheeler could’ve made his proposals knowing full well they would drum up serious public opposition, leaving Obama free to swoop in and ride that public sentiment to come out in favor of Title II. Wheeler, then, could follow the President’s lead knowing he has the Oval Office’s support in triggering the nuclear option — a move he might’ve wanted to make all along.

Wheeler, meanwhile, responded to Obama’s statement Monday with one of his own that essentially boils down to this: the FCC needs more time.

“I am grateful for the input of the President and look forward to continuing to receive input from all stakeholders, including the public, members of Congress of both parties, including the leadership of the Senate and House committees, and my fellow commissioners,” Wheeler said. “Ten years have passed since the commission started down the road towards enforceable Open Internet rules. We must take the time to get the job done correctly, once and for all, in order to successfully protect consumers and innovators online.”

TIME Burma

Top Legal Academics Want Burmese Generals Indicted for War Crimes

Guards of honour salute during an event marking the anniversary of Martyrs' Day at the Martyrs Mausoleum in Yangon
Burmese soldiers salute during an event marking the anniversary of Martyrs' Day at the Martyrs' Mausoleum in Rangoon on July 19, 2014 Soe Zeya Tun—Reuters

The abuses are described as "too grave to be ignored"

Leading generals in Burma’s powerful military should be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to researchers who claim to have accumulated enough evidence to mount a successful prosecution under international law.

A four-year investigation by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School focused on an offensive in the eastern part of Burma, also known as Myanmar, in 2005 and 2006. The study documented soldiers firing mortars at villages, slaughtering fleeing villagers, destroying homes and food, laying land mines indiscriminately and forcing civilians to work without pay.

On Friday, a legal memorandum, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in Eastern Myanmar, was released that implicates three commanders in international crimes as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

“These are serious allegations that demand a determined, good faith response by the Myanmar government and military,” said Tyler Giannini, co-director of the clinic. “The abuses perpetrated by the military have been too widespread, too persistent, and too grave to be ignored.”

Burma has been transitioning from military dictatorship to civilian government since 2011; however, many former junta figures remain key players in the new quasi-democratic administration headed by President Thein Sein.

Asked about the war-crimes report, a government spokesman told the New York Times, “Both the Tatmadaw [Burmese military] and ethnic armed groups might have violated human rights.”

Read next: Aung San Suu Kyi’s Silence on Burma’s Human-Rights Abuses Is Appalling.

TIME legal

Why the Constitution Can Protect Passwords But Not Fingerprint Scans

Password Fingerprints Fifth Amendment
A portable fingerprint scanner is displayed at the Biometrics Conference and Exhibition at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images

Fingerprint scans are more secure, except when it comes to the Fifth Amendment

Cellphone fingerprint passcodes weren’t on James Madison’s mind when he authored the Fifth Amendment, a constitutional protection with roots in preventing torture by barring self-incriminating testimonials in court cases.

Yet those tiny skin ridges we all share were at the heart of a Virginia court case last week in which a judge ruled that police, who suspected there was incriminating evidence on a suspect’s smartphone, could legally force the man to unlock his device with its fingerprint scanner. While the Fifth Amendment protects defendants from revealing their numeric passcodes, which would be considered a self-incriminating testimonial, biometrics like fingerprint scans fall outside the law’s scope.

“If you are being forced to divulge something that you know, that’s not okay,” said Marcia Hofmann, an attorney and special counsel to digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation. “If the government is able through other means to collect evidence that just exists, then they certainly can do that without stepping on the toes of the constitutional protection.”

“The important thing is,” Hofmann said, “is it something you know, or something you have?”

The Virginia ruling was perhaps the most clear-cut decision among similar cases whose outcomes have varied significantly by circumstance. In United States v. Fricosu (2012), a court ruled because it was “a foregone conclusion” that the defendant’s password-locked data was incriminating, the Fifth Amendment didn’t apply. In United States v. John Doe (2011), the defendant, who had a hard drive protected by encryption, at first didn’t receive Fifth Amendment protection, but that decision was reversed by an appellate court that ruled that if Doe provided his decryption password, then it would “lead the Government to evidence that would incriminate him.” Last week’s Virginia ruling is a fresh example of what can happen when a 225-year-old law is applied to a field as rapidly changing as digital security.

“I think the courts are struggling with this, because a fingerprint in and of itself is not testimony,” said Hayes Hunt, a criminal defense and government investigations lawyer at Cozen O’Connor. “The concern is, once we put a password on something or on ourselves, we have a certain privacy interest.”

Judges across the country will only have to make more decisions about biometrics, as their use by everyday consumers is on the rise. Today, our data is protected by everything from iris scans at airports to heartbeat measurements and ear-print smartphone locks. “This whole area is in such a state of flux,” said Jody Goodman, a counsel at Crowell & Moring. “It seems like every week there are new things happening.”

Apple in particular is one of the most widely-recognized consumer technology companies that have adopted biometrics, though it wasn’t the first. Its latest flagship iPhones and iPads come with Touch ID, which lets users unlock their devices or make payments by scanning their thumbprints instead of inputting a numeric passcode. But while Apple and other companies with fingerprint scanners on their devices say the feature provides more protection from data theft, the Virginia ruling means that data protected only by an old-school passcode is afforded stronger legal protection under the Fifth Amendment.

The solution for those seeking more legal cover for their data, though, is surprisingly simple. If a defendant’s data is protected by both a thumbprint and a passcode, he or she could invoke the Fifth for the thumbprint, thereby blocking access to the data — at least according to the precedent set by the Virginia case. But for now, iPhones at least lack this option, probably because it’s not being demanded by consumers.

“I think Apple will respond to what the market demands,” said Goodman. “Most people don’t want to be bothered [by additional security]. That’s why the fingerprint technology was created in the first place.”

TIME legal

Feds Arrest Alleged Operator of ‘Silk Road 2.0′

Authorities claim Blake Benthall, 26, was behind the illegal online marketplace

A man who allegedly ran a copycat website of a shuttered online marketplace used for the anonymous sale of illegal drugs and other goods was arrested on Wednesday in San Francisco, federal authorities said Thursday.

Investigators claim that Blake Benthall, 26, co-created Silk Road 2.0 in November 2013 after the man accused of founding the original Silk Road — Ross Ulbricht, known as “Dread Pirate Roberts” — was arrested and had his site shut down the month earlier. Operating under the name “Defcon,” the officials allege, Benthall owned and operated “one of the most extensive, sophisticated, and widely used criminal marketplaces on the Internet today.”

The marketplace, which shielded its some 150,000 active users with Tor technology and appears to have been seized by federal authorities, was apparently generating sales of about $8 million each month, primarily in illicit drugs.

“Let’s be clear—this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “Those looking to follow in the footsteps of alleged cybercriminals should understand that we will return as many times as necessary to shut down noxious online criminal bazaars. We don’t get tired.”

Benthall is charged with money laundering, conspiring to commit computer hacking, conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents and conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking. The latter charge carries a sentence between 10 years and life in prison. He is expected to appear in federal court in San Francisco on Thursday.

TIME legal

Facebook Suing Attorneys Who Pushed Allegedly Fraudulent Case

Though an old lawsuit against it was dismissed, Facebook is going after the lawyers behind it

Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg are suing the lawyers of man who claimed in 2010 that he and Zuckerberg had an agreement that granted him a major stake in the company.

Though a judge previously dismissed the claims of Paul Ceglia, a lawsuit filed in the New York State Supreme Court on Monday alleges that Ceglia’s lawyers continued their lawsuit in order to win a settlement despite knowing that Ceglia’s claims were false, the New York Times reports.

“We said from the beginning that Paul Ceglia’s claim was a fraud and that we would seek to hold those responsible accountable,” said Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel, in a statement. “DLA Piper and the other named law firms knew the case was based on forged documents yet they pursued it anyway, and they should be held to account.”

Peter Pantaleo, general counsel for DLA Piper, one of the firms named in the suit, denied the allegations.

“This is an entirely baseless lawsuit that has been filed as a tactic to intimidate lawyers from bringing litigation against Facebook,” he said in a statement.

[NYT]

TIME legal

Why U.S. Sanctions Mean Some Countries Don’t Get Any iPhones

Apple iPhone Technology Embargo Sanctions
An attendee displays the new Apple Inc. iPhone 6, left, and iPhone 6 Plus for a photograph after a product announcement at Flint Center in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. Bloomberg via Getty Images

A sanction a day keeps Apple away

Some 36 additional countries will receive shipments of Apple’s iPhone 6 this month, with over 115 countries on track to get the big-screen smartphones by the end of the year. But a handful of countries won’t be receiving any Apple products at all.

Among the Apple-less countries are Syria, North Korea, Sudan and Cuba, which face trade sanctions from the United States. That means the “exportation, reexportation, sale or supply” of any Apple goods from the U.S. or an American anywhere is prohibited in those countries, according to Apple’s global trade compliance. Add to those Apple-less countries several African and Middle Eastern nations, among other countries, which Apple’s sales locator indicates have neither Apple Stores nor authorized Apple product resellers.

Apple did not respond for comment on whether authorized distribution channels exist in countries that aren’t sanctioned by the U.S. but still present a difficult business climate, like Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Yemen. Technology and trade experts were reluctant to speculate why Apple may not penetrate these markets, but some pointed to a lack of demand or infrastructure.

In the map below, Apple-less countries appear unshaded:

The world recently bore witness to what happened when China, not subject to U.S. sanctions, was deprived of the iPhone 6’s initial release: a gray market exploded while rumors swirled that the “Chinese mafia” was storming Apple Stores around the world to collect iPhones for resell to high-income buyers.

That same grey market boom is happening in countries that do face U.S. sanctions, though for different reasons. While Chinese buyers were simply unwilling to wait for the iPhone 6’s official release in their home country, high-income buyers in sanctioned states are creating demand for a product that will likely never be sold in their country. That demand is being met by unofficial providers like the “Apple Syria Store” and “Tehran Apple Store,” two unofficial Apple distribution channels in the Middle East, for example.

A lack of iPhones in some countries, however, is only a problem for those countries’ wealthiest residents. Indeed, the iPhone craze overshadows a higher-stake battle: Access to less-hyped but important American technology in countries where such technology continues to be restricted.

The U.S. has put in place sanctions against Syria, North Korea, Sudan, Cuba and Iran to discourage those countries from abusing human rights, sponsoring terrorism or launching nuclear programs. While the sanctions were largely intended as economic embargoes, they also disrupted the free flow of information by severely limiting residents’ access to communication technology, advocates say. That technology includes not only electronics like Apple’s iPhone, but also American software and websites like Apple’s App Store, Adobe Flash, Yahoo e-mail and educational platforms like Khan Academy and Coursera. In many sanctioned countries, attempts to access those sites result in a “blocked” page. In certain countries it’s also prohibited to update whatever American software is available, leaving in place security vulnerabilities in countries where surveillance and censorship are commonplace.

“It’s still a fairly new issue, because it wasn’t really until the Arab Spring that people started to realize communication technology as a tools of free expression,” said Danielle Kehl, a tech policy analyst at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

Observers first began to note the impact of U.S. sanctions on communication technology during Iran’s Green Movement in 2009, when protesters demanding the president’s removal used the Internet as an activist tool, according to independent tech policy researcher Collin Anderson. Within years, activists won over U.S. officials, who exempted certain technologies from American sanctions on Iran to empower protestors. That hasn’t yet been replicated in other sanctioned countries.

Anderson also said that pressure from the Iranian diaspora contributed to a decision by U.S. officials to issue a sanction exemption that allowed the export or re-export of “certain services, software, and hardware incident to personal communications” to Iranians. Apple then “quietly updated its compliance policy” to match the change, Anderson said.

“Apple is in an under-appreciated way one of the most responsive adopters of U.S. policies [that lift sanctions on technology],” said Anderson.

Apple had some market incentive to comply quickly with the change. Most of these sanctioned countries have significant amounts of mobile phone subscribers buying devices purchased from non-U.S. countries or companies, according to Anderson and data from the International Telecommunications Union.

Despite all those potential customers for Apple and other tech firms, tech policy analysts agreed the onus is on U.S. officials to invoke change. But that Apple and several other companies chose to engage with complex, high-risk sanctions in Iran shows that when the policies change, companies tend follow suit.

Still, Kehl said the other, risk-averse option for companies is to “over-comply” with Iranian sanctions, or to treat the laws as if they were complete embargoes in order to reduce their liability. That’s what happened in 2009 when LinkedIn blocked Syrian accounts and when Google blocked its code.google.com developer’s tool in Sudan.

Even Apple appeared to over-comply in 2012 when a Apple Store employee in Alpharetta, Georgia refused to sell an iPad to Iranian-American woman after he heard the woman speaking Persian, according to Jamal Abdi, policy director at the National Iranian American Council. “If [Apple] had reason to believe you were going to take an Apple product to Iran, or if you were going to resell it, [Apple] had to take action to stop people,” explained Abdi, who slammed the practice as discriminatory in a New York Times op-ed. The woman later received an apology from an Apple customer service employee, as NPR noted at the time.

The greatest pressure for change, however, is coming from within the sanctioned countries. Iranian bloggers have discussed banned technologies at risking of criminal charges, Sudanese computer science students have demanded more educational tools, and Syrians have called for U.S. imports of basic technological needs. Several non-profits have reported that sanctioning U.S. technology is highly detrimental to affected countries’ growth, while Abdi added that sanctions have prevented the electronic delivery of humanitarian aid or day-to-day monetary transactions because many banks are affected.

Still, tech companies have in recent years shown more willingness to engage government officials on matter of policy, particularly after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s surveillance leaks. Twitter sued the U.S. Justice Department earlier this month to disclose government requests for user data, while popular websites like Netflix, Mozilla and Reddit joined an online protest against the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed rules they said could divide the Internet into “fast lanes” and “slow lanes.” In the most visible tech-backed activism to date, Wikipedia and Reddit “blacked out” their webpages and Google censored its logo to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, which was later shelved by its author.

Analysts are not expecting Apple to be at the forefront of the battle to lift U.S. sanctions. But as several organizations and advocates pressed for changes to American trade policy towards Iran, it would be hard to believe they would turn away Apple’s support.

“[Apple] is very quiet about these things—like either Apple is the best, or maybe the worst. But it seems like it’s the best,” Anderson said. “[Apple’s] recognition of [the policy changes regarding Iran] was the first moral victory for everyone who had worked so hard on this.”

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