Mac Racism

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ID:11787 Section: Information Technology

Updated:Wednesday 20th June 2012

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(MSNBC) - By Kari Huus, An Apple store employee refused to sell an iPad to an Iranian American customer, citing company policy that aims to comply with U.S. sanctions on trade with Iran, WSBTV in Atlanta reported this week. The customer left empty-handed, in tears, and complained of discrimination to the reporter.The case is more complicated than that, legal experts say. The incident and others like it highlight a dilemma created by the U.S. trade embargo against Iran — and other sanctioned countries, including Cuba, Syria and North Korea — which makes even the humblest sales associate responsible for enforcing the embargo’s provisions. Those employees — as well as the store and the company — could be hit with civil and criminal penalties if they sell products to customers who they have reason to believe will export them to Iran in violation of the embargo, legal experts say. But if the same clerk refuses service on the basis of the customer’s language or ethnic background, they may run afoul of civil rights laws."If I walked in and told them I want to buy this and send it to a friend in Iran or Cuba, they can’t sell it to me," said Clif Burns, an export control attorney at Bryan Cave, a law firm in Washington, D.C. "If they had that information, they were absolutely within their rights" to refuse the sale."The tricky question is if you hear someone speaking Farsi (also called Persian) … then the issue is: Should you be more alert to the possibility that they might export the item to Iran? And by being more alert in that situation are you in violation of civil rights statutes? It’s not any easy question."Under U.S. sanctions against Iran — dating to 1987 and expanded several times since — exports to the Islamic republic are illegal, with exceptions for items in a few limited categories, such as books, movies, agricultural goods, medicine and medical supplies. These sanctions are enforced by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control and the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security. Sanctions are not intended to affect the sale of goods used in the United States."There is absolutely no U.S. policy or law that would prohibit Apple or any other company from selling its products in the United States to anyone intending to use the product in the United States, including Iranians and Persian-speakers," said Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department.But the government does not spell out how an individual working in a retail store should judge whether a customer intends to send or carry a product to a country under sanctions, and technically the onus could fall on store clerks. And Burns says anyone in the chain who touches a transaction that violates of the sanctions can be held liable if they knew or should have known that the item was being shipped to a sanctioned country."The standard applies to the retail clerk, shipping manager, corporate headquarters," said Burns.Individuals can be fined up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison for export sanctions violations. Corporations can be hit with a $1 million criminal penalty, he said. "In theory there’s no intent (to commit a crime) requirement. They will look at whether you knew or should have known."In reality, there are only a few reported cases of retailers denying individual sales on this ba

Tags:American, Cuba, Farsi, Iran, Iranian, Islamic, Korea, MSNBC, Mac Racism, North Korea, Persian, State Department, Syria, Treasury Department, U.S. sanctions against Iran, United States, Washington

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