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Report: NIAC director slams US Gov’t, Apple for racially profiling over export sanction to Iran

Do you remember last month’s report about select Apple retail stores in Georgia allegedly discriminating against Farsi-speaking customers due to a United States sanction export to Iran? Well, the story is still abuzz. The policy director at the National Iranian American Council, Jamal Abdi, even got some space in The New York Times today to speak his mind on the matter:

  • IMAGINE if your ethnicity determined which products you were able to buy. Or if sales clerks required you to divulge your ancestry before swiping your credit card.
  • Some of us don’t have to imagine.

Abdi reviewed the cases from last month, and he even cited similar situations in California:

  • An isolated episode could be dismissed as the work of one bigoted, or misguided, employee. But there have been other recent reports of Apple employees refusing to sell to customers of Iranian descent.
  • In Santa Monica, Calif., two friends looking to buy an iPhone were asked whether they were speaking Persian and promptly informed, “I am sorry, we don’t sell to Persians.” In Sacramento, an Iranian-American man looking to buy Apple products for personal use mentioned that he was also thinking about buying an iPod for his nephew in Iran and was told he could not buy anything, even for himself. An Iranian student in Atlanta, and his Iranian-American friend, were not permitted to buy an iPhone after the friend, under questioning, mentioned that the student planned to return to Iran for the summer.

The NIAC director attributed these occurrences to Apple retail employees being forced to “interpret and implement federal policy,” which results in racial profiling, he said:

  • At the moment, nearly all exports to Iran are prohibited. Traveling to Iran with items like computers and smartphones is illegal. Apple’s own policy, stated on its Web site, makes it very clear that its products can’t be sent there.
  • But it is also illegal in the United States for a private company to discriminate against individuals based on race, color, religion or national origin under the Civil Rights Act. This protection extends of course to retail stores.

Abdi concluded his editorial by calling for Congress and President Obama to confront the consequences of their “ratcheted up sanctions,” or else they will continue to threaten the “values and basic civil liberties of some American citizens.”

The issue comes down to the US Government vaguely forcing retailers to enforce sanctions when those should be enforced at borders.

Visit The New York Times for the entire piece, called “Sanctions at the Genius Bar”.