U.S. and international sanctions against repressive regimes may do more harm than good when they prohibit exporting personal technology such as smartphones and software programs that can aid dissidents and promote human rights, according to a report released on Wednesday.
By prohibiting U.S. companies from exporting these technologies, sanctions may be doing repressive regimes’ work for them, according to the report titled Translating Norms to the Digital Age published by the New America Foundation.
The report cites the case of the Google Play store, which Google unblocked in Iran, following a legal clarification that allowed them to do so. Once the store went online, the Iranian government blocked it, suggesting the U.S. prohibition on offering the store in Iran may have been helping the Iranian regime rather than hurting it.
In four of the five countries subject to comprehensive U.S. sanctions there are some carve outs for personal technology, the report states, but those carve outs are often scattershot and unclear, which makes U.S. firms hesitant to sell in those nations.
The report recommends reforming sanctions regimes in a manner similar to the smart sanctions debate of the 1990s, which aimed to target sanctions so they harmed a nation’s leaders rather than its citizens.