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Monday, 30 January 2017 11:57

Trump bans will hit US tech conferences


Sweeping ban orders on the entry of certain categories of legal US residents and the ban on citizens of seven Arab and African nations from entering the US for residence, could mean that the organisers of several big technology and other conferences will have to rethink whether they will change their hosting locations.

US President Donald Trump last week signed an executive order banning people from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Somalia from entering the US as refugees or even if they held valid green cards. The Australian government has backed these bans, while the leaders of Britain and Germany have been critical.

Along with that has come the news that the US government is thinking of asking foreign visitors to disclose websites and social media sites they visit and also provide their list of mobile contacts to immigration. They could be denied entry if they did not, CNN reported.

White House policy director Stephen Miller disclosed this, in addition to telling officials who handle border security not to be dissuaded by protests in implementing the ban orders.

The voluntary provision of social media accounts by foreign visitors, who are from countries which have a visa waiver with the US, became standard practice in December 2016.

There are a good number of foreigners working in the technology industry in the US and given that none of the bigger companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google have categorically come out against these ban orders, the possibility that they will be rescinded is remote.

None of these companies has come out and stated openly that it is unwilling to help in the creation of a national registry of Muslims, one of Trump's proposals, either.

There are a huge number of conferences held in the US each year, in some cases by companies that do not have their headquarters in the country. This is because a majority of their business customers are in North America and it is more convenient for these customers to attend.

Additionally, Americans attend a vast number of conferences held outside their own country, some of them belonging to the countries that are on the ban list.

Just this morning, Mustafa Al-Bassam, a noted hacker who was part of the Anonymous collective, tweeted that he had been banned from the US since 2013 due to his past associations, adding that he was now double-banned since he hails from Iraq. Bassam is a doctoral student in London after he became a white hat.

That is just one case in point. There are cases in the past where noted hackers — Jacob Appelbaum formerly of the Tor project, for example — have been searched and questioned at length when coming back to the US. Laura Poitras, the film-maker who was one of the first to gain access to the Snowden leaks, has also detailed being searched extensively when entering the US. Poitras now lives in Berlin.

But these are small incidents in comparison with what could eventuate if the bans that have been ordered stay in place. No conference organiser would like to have strictures on choices of speakers or invitees or even ordinary attendees, because many depend on delegate fees to cover conference costs.

And, if visitors hear reports of increased harassment at US airports — the measures in place before Trump took office were onerous enough to put people off — then the likelihood of visitor numbers falling would grow.

Until the technology industry bigwigs — people like Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Google co-founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter chief Jack Dorsey, and Oracle head Larry Ellison to name a few — come out and stridently oppose the bans, nobody in the US administration will pay heed.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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