Business is business, but being remembered as the company which helped “the last dictator of Europe” is not the most desirable marketing material. That’s what is happening for the operations of Sandvine in Belarus.
Sandvine, an American company, sells software to manage and secure networks, which includes blacklisting capabilities. As Bloomberg reports, in August, Sandvine’s deep packet inspection equipment played a central role in censoring social media, news and messaging platforms used to protest against President Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election. Sandvine managed to get around U.S. sanctions in Belarus by leveraging a local contractor. It filtered about 40% of internet traffic moving in and out of the country, allowing to blacklist as many as 150 million website URLs.
This episode is just another supporting evidence for the case of making access to the internet a fundamental human right. By fixing this instrumental right, we could focus on more complex socio-economic ones: digital awareness, education and digital inclusion.
If the climate crisis was not enough, the Sandvine case also tells us that there is a long road to go for the public accountability of the private sector. Starting from management education around business impact. In times of global negative repercussions of corporate interest, the CEO’s statement “We believe that each sovereign country should be allowed to set their own policy on what is allowed and what is not allowed in that country” sounds like a rant from the past. History is essential: IBM had the same approach with Hitler, facilitating the Holocaust through generation and tabulation of punch cards based upon national census data. Eighty years passed. Software companies can’t be left “providing solutions” to dictators’ problems. In the hands of power, they can be turned into final solutions.
Sept. 15 update: Sandvine cancelled its deal with Belarus attributinghuman rights abuse to custom code.