Iranian Americans denied sale of Apple goods due to export policy

Americans of Iranian descent have been having a hard time picking up iPhones and iPads in the state of Georgia due to a U.S. import ban that has translated into a sale policy at Apple stores. On multiple occasions, shoppers were heard by Apple Store managers speaking Farsi and denied service. The reason was a fairly cut and dry part of Apple's sale policy on prohibited destinations.

The U.S. holds complete embargoes against Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. The exportation, reexportation, sale or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a U.S. person wherever located, of any Apple goods, software, technology (including technical data), or services to any of these countries is strictly prohibited without prior authorization by the U.S. Government. This prohibition also applies to any Apple owned subsidiary or any subsidiary employee worldwide.

The big offense here isn't that the U.S. has a trade embargo on Iran (that's another can of worms altogether), but rather that Apple is enforcing this policy through their retail locations. Obviously Apple isn't going to be shipping anything to areas restricted by law, but should they be held accountable for indirect re-exportation after they sell goods domestically? If so, should it really be within the jurisdiction of some chump retail employee to pry into the personal lives of others, or worse still, make brash assumptions based on language alone? It seems to me that the onus sits on government border control if they want to uphold these embargoes.

Apple employees later suggested that the shoppers in question just buy their goods online, but really, why should they have to? If Apple is willing to do that, why not just sell them the iPad or iPhone at a store? It's easy to jump on this situation as a case of racial profiling, but I think in the end it's just poor staff training on Apple's part; they need the shipping policy in place to comply with American law, but if managers were explicitly told not to sell to anyone even vaguely Cuban, Iranian, Korean, Sudanese, or Syrian, then Apple deserves the PR poopstorm to come.

As you might expect, major American Iranian associations are calling for Apple to change their position. Do you think Apple will, or are they right to be worried that the government would see them as being too lax on the law?

Source: WSBTV via 9to5Mac

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Iranian Americans denied sale of Apple goods due to export policy

68 Comments

Dear Sir,
The export restrictions as currently drafted require Apple to behave in this manner or otherwise face excessive fines that can range from $250k to $1M in fines per occurrence for selling goods to a foreign national of or into the embargoed countries. Note that if a laptop is taken from the US to Iran and Apple provides support or updates they have violated US Export Restrictions. The reason they ask them to buy online is that they can actually verify all of the information, confirm country of purchaser and have a known end point shipping destination that can be confirmed. At that point, Apple can further disclaim liability and impute it to the end user via its EULAs and TOS. This policy is completely reasonable given the high cost of non-compliance as well as the US Governements ability to block imports which would kill Apples business. Finally, as counsel for many technology companies, I would not want retail employees attempting to make decisions on who is a risk and who is not a foreign national from one of those countries, so having what seems to be a draconian policy is the only way around this. I do agree though that it should be uniformly applied to any persons from those countries and frankly if everyone buying Apple products has an Apple ID this would likely solve the issue.

I think you are missing a key point here. My understanding is that the sales person heard the customer speaking Farsi and therefore stated “I just can’t sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations". The customs was a US citizen. As a UK citizen who speaks Farsi but not of middle eastern descent, if I was in that store I would have been extremely dissapointed with my unfair treatment.
The last I checked there was no embargo on selling to someone who can SPEAK Farsi.
The sales person clearly has (personal) issues with racial profiling or has had some very poor guidance. He/she should not be allowed to make a judgement unless they have reasonable grounds to assume the product is being transferred to an embargoes country.

Yeah... right...
I'll buy an iPhone on a U.S. store and go freely to Iran afterwards just because I'm american.

I'm highly familiar with the embargo's rules. The embargo is on goods shipped to that country, not to American citizens of decent of those countries. this applies not only to Apple, but to third party shipping companies as well.
the key is the items are not being shipped to Iran. if the indivisual has a permanent US residence, the embargo does not apply to Apple. if that individual decides to send it to Iran, then they are in violation of the embargo. If that individual uses it as personal use, no embargo is violated.
A store manager cannot decide to not sell because of the language a person is speaking. Apple had better make this clear fast. Law suits will result (and rightfully so).

A load of bull. Once the device is paid for in US funds and leaves the store with the purchaser, no company is responsible for where it goes after that unless that company is the one sending it to those embargoed areas.

This is going to get real bad. At least it should, because according to this guy at Apple, if your FROM Cuba you can't buy one. (or any of those listed) Guilty by association. WOW!!

Go whine about something real for a change. I am so sick and tired of all the complaining about what some foreigner or Americanized foreigner, can't do over here about something that in the scheme of things such as world hunger, peace, etc., and all they can do is complain about not getting an Apple product. If it's so darn bad over here, GO HOME and don't look back. Ugh!!!

So, if you lived in another country and weren't allowed to get an apple product you wouldn't complain? First, your on iMore so you probably have about 5 apple products so if you lived in another country and you weren't actually allowed to purchase them because of your nationality you would just sit there being fine about it? I thought not.

Every American has the right to be treated equally and fairly..he/she should not be judged by the color of his skin or his ethnicity.
Get educated.

And I am sick of people deciding to infringe on the rights of other citizens of the US (until you prove them otherwise) because of how they look or in this case speak. Something "real" for a change? How about the violation of a person's rights on the basis of how they look or talk or whatever? OH! How about denying someone the ability to engage in free commerce (remember? This is a capitalist society; free market and all...) because they speak Farsi or Urdu or maybe Mandarin, or Spanish?

This is real bad, they were not getting the iphones to take them overseas, they were profiled based on their ethnicity....so does that mean Cubans aren't allowed to have iphones or iPad here in Florida???....

You're in America. Speak English and no one's the wiser. I speak multiple languages also, but I don't go around speaking another language just because it's easier or because I'm trying to hide something.
Either way, I agree that it shouldn't be up to Apple as a company and certainly not at a retail store to enforce this. To my knowledge, other retail stores don't do this, so why should Apple. It paints a very fascist image for Apple if you ask me.

What language do you use to communicate with your siblings and parents when youre in any country ? your native language.
They know English and they talked English to the staff. No crime for them to speak their own language when talking to eachother privately!

I don't subscribe to that way of thinking. If I've moved to another country to live, I speak their native tongue even with my private family, public or otherwise. That's how it's done in our homes. If you're just traveling or visiting another country but not really a resident alien or citizen, then I don't see a problem with speaking your native tongue there... but mostly because you're probably not fluent in the other language. If you're fluent, speak the language of the country you're in. I find it offensive when people do otherwise. It's as if they're saying... too bad for you that you don't speak our language and can't understand what we're saying (be it good or bad). They're even more surprised when you fire back at them in their native tongue and then you see their demeanor change in terms of their jokingly secret way of communicating. :rolleyes:

Well, the US officially doesn't have an official language. Even with your stance, it's hard to then say people should speak the official language of the country they are in.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LanguagesoftheUnitedStates#Officiallanguagestatus
The United States does not have a national official language; nevertheless, English (specifically American English) is the primary language used for legislation, regulations, executive orders, treaties, federal court rulings, and all other official pronouncements; although there are laws requiring documents such as ballots to be printed in multiple languages when there are large numbers of non-English speakers in an area.
As part of what has been called the English-only movement, some states have adopted legislation granting official status to English. As of April 2011[update], out of 50 states, 28 had established English as the official language, including Hawaii where English and Hawaiian are both official.

The language of the law is the language of the land it governs. Simple as that. Wiki is not exactly written by anyone else other than normal public people... who don't always understand everything properly.

Apparently you haven't moved from country to another , so you have no clue.
Plus , you hear people speak Spanish in a lot of places in US , should Apple stop selling products to them just cause maybe they're from Cuba ?!
When you move to a country you should learn their language and follow their rules and laws. However you don't have to give up your homelands traditions and language and you have the freedom of speaking your native language to your closest relative. It's only wrong and disrespectful when you try to speak your native language to others who don't understand it.

The policy is an EXPORT policy. There is no export in the store. The store manager is an idiot, and I am sure that this isn't Apple's policy at all. Nobody this stupid is capable of running anything let alone a multi billion dollar company.

I would be tempted to agree if this was an isolated incident and a single dumbass manager, but this happened in two stores independently.

I guess it's the least we can do for having to put up with those types of people. They come here and take our jobs and don't learn the language. Buy online

You mean do take the jobs that you feel you are too good for such as housekeeping? There are plenty of jobs out there. Pick one.

You're absolutely retarded, TheRealRothstein. These customers did (and do) speak perfectly good English. They ALSO happen to speak another language (god forbid Americans be educated and know more than one language...). They were not speaking Farsi because they didn't know how to speak English. They were obviously conversing with the Apple employee in English, not to mention in the TV news segment. However, when the customers had side conversations just between each other in Farsi, the Apple store employee decided that they must be Iranian nationals who want to export the products to a prohibited destination. Of course, that's not entirely true, because some of the customers were naturalized US citizens, and in at least one of these instances, the customer said he had no intention of exporting the Apple product to Iran. Frankly, enforcement of export embargoes is the sole jurisdiction of the federal US government, and specifically, of the US Customs Department. It is not the job of retail employees of some domestic store located in, say, Georgia, to speculate about whether the customer intends to violate US export embargoes, at some undefined point in the future, by subsequently exporting the item to a prohibited destination.
Listen, TheRealRothstein. I don't think you're racist. You're simply an ass who diminishes the greatness of this country with your unbridled idiocy. Hence, YOU are the one who should leave, lest you should further damage the strength and national interests of the US. You're taking up space in this country that could be occupied by human beings who are actually intelligent and educated. Please, if you're a true patriot, do your country a big favor and move to Ecuador or something.

And this brings me back to the point I had made above. If you respect the place you're in and the individuals you're dealing with, there's no reason to "hide" whatever you're saying by changing languages to keep secrets, even if it was about talking the guy down in price or whatever (i.e. something innnocent). Act like a foreigner, get treated like one.

BS !
They're not hiding anything. It's only natural to speak your native tongue to your closest relatives.
They didn't get treated like foreigners. Are you suggesting they would've gotten the same treatment if they'd been speaking French , Italian or Spanish ?! ;)
You're points are not valid cause you've never had to MOVE to another country and adapt to that country !

I am sorry but that's the kind of ass backwards philosophy that makes me detest Apple. I own apple products, and I enjoy them, but sometimes the way they handle things is just plain WTF.
This should be made viral.

So many racists following iMore. I'm surprised. For so long Apple products and their users personified social acceptance, mainly used by artists and designers. Now it seems like every bigot and jackass wants to sit at the cool kid's table. Here's a quote for those morons up top who think that Americans shouldn't complain about being treated differently because of where their parents were born, "When in Rome." If you're too stupid to understand, I'll explain; If you want to be a part of a progressive culture like Apple, understand the culture and embrace it.

That is retarded. Owning an apple product does not obligate you to any culture. Apple itself is not any kind of culture. Apple is merely a consumer electronics/software brand that doesn't give a damn about you or any culture, except the money you give them. No different than Microsoft, Sony, or any other company.

The bottom line is who cares if they speak Farsi or not, speaking a different language does NOT immediately mean you are from the country of origin where the language is spoken.
The customer can go to another store and buy it from there, but in reality Apple should lose the sale and the customer. Apple is NOT part of ICE and is not responsible for products purchased at retail that are then used elsewhere in the world.
So what if you work with Doctors without Boarders and your MBP fails while you are in an embargoed country, does that mean Apple shouldn't support it.

Commenters are missing the bigger picture...
Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant!
How dare he build and traffic in technology in America!
Is it coincidence that Apple's meteoric rise from the ashes did not begin until after the Bush administration lumped in Syria with the original "Axis of Evil" nations in 2003, but that the iPhone was not announced until after Condi Rice and Nancy Peolsi met with top Syrian officials in 2007?
I think not! Wake up sheeple!
/sarcasm

The comment was to Peace Police Above. For some reason my comments show up half the time, what is goin on Rene, why the ban ? :?

"The U.S. holds complete embargoes against Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. The exportation, reexportation, sale or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a U.S. person wherever located, of any Apple goods, software, technology (including technical data), or services to any of these countries is strictly prohibited without prior authorization by the U.S. Government. This prohibition also applies to any Apple owned subsidiary or any subsidiary employee worldwide."
I am sorry for the way the retail associate handled the situation but.....the law is the law.

That is a misrepresentation of the law. The law says, "the exportation, reexportation, sale or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a U.S. person wherever located," to any of the listed countries. It doesn't prohibit the sale of US citizens from those countries. US customs would also not allow you to take these products to the listed countries, so I don't see the point of prohibiting the sale because we speak a certain language.

im from iran.idont have bomb.we did not start any war.is this human rights?we are human just like you. im sorry for .....اميدوارم روزي برسد thank you.كه صلح وآرامش در جهان برقرار شود

These kind of articles about racial profiling really bring out the ignorance and hatred toward others in people, it kind of makes me happy that companies collect this data because hopefully one day it will be public knowledge what people think about others. 'You don't like it here, go back home" is the mentality I see in this thread and to those individuals I say this: The United States was built from immigrants from day 1. Don't you EVER forget that. There is no such thing as a real American because the Europeans just came here and stole the Native people's land. "Opening ourselves to friendship, honest trade,and diplomacy is the foreign policy of peace and prosperity" - Ron Paul.

Well what about speaking one of the many other languages spoken in Iran?
(list from Wikipedia)
Aimaq 170,030
Gulf Arabic 200,000
Mesopotamian Arabic 1,200,000
Armenian 170,800
Ashtiani 21,099
Assyrian Neo-Aramaic 10,00 - 20,000
Azerbaijani language 11,200,000
Bakhtiari 1,000,000 (350,000 are monolingual)
Balochi, southern 405,000
Balochi, western 451,000
Bashkardi 7,033
Brahui 10,000
Dari, Zoroastrian 8,000 to 15,000
Domari 1,338,271
Fars, northwestern 7,500
Fars, southwestern 7,500
Gazi 7,033
Georgian 60,000
Gilaki 1,265,000
Harzani 28,132
Hawrami 22,948
Hazaragi 283,000
Karingari 17,583
Kazakh 3,000
Khalaj 42,108
Kho'ini (unknown)
Khorosani Turkic 400,000
Khunsari 21,099
Koroshi 180
Kurdish, central 3,250,000
Kurdish, northern 350,000
Kurdish, southern 3,000,000
Laki 1,000,000
Luri, northern 1,500,000
Luri, southern 875,000
Mandaic 500
Mazanderani 3,265,000
Natanzi 7,033
Nayini 7,033
Parsi-Dari 350,000
Pashto, southern 113,000
Persian, western 22,500,000
Persian, eastern 1,000,000
Qashqa'i 1,500,000
Semnani 21,099
Senaya 60
Sivandi 7,033
Soi 7,033
Takestani 220,000
Talysh 112,000
Tat, Muslim 7,000
Turkmen 2,000,000
Vafsi 18,000

The 19-year-old woman is a U.S. citizen living in the country, who just happens to also speak the language spoken in a country that is the subject of a trade embargo. This would be like the Apple store refusing to sell to anyone who speaks Spanish because they might have defected from Cuba. And are Apple employees asking every Korean customer whether they were born in North or South Korea?

Good Lord I wouldn't know Farsi from pig latin! Good thing I don't work for Apple. I would be selling products to anyone walking through the door no matter what they spoke so long as they had the cashola to pay for them.

Iranians have become the world's new scapegoats. You're oppressed by the regime in Iran, once you leave Iran you're discriminated against.
This is particularly tragic since in its recent history Iran has been a victim of Western (in particular UK) politics (google for Mossadegh and the CIA coup if you're interested in details).
I know many Iranians, all of them nice and sophisticated people. I've seen many of the obstacles the West puts in your way and recently it's getting worse and worse...

I used to work at the Apple store. The policy is that we cannot sell you items if your intent is to use these items in one of the aforementioned countries. We only don't feel items if the customer distinctly mentions (or most times "admits to") the intent of taking the product to a restricted country. But we certainly would not discriminate on a customer based on anything other than their word. We have re-sellers come in the store all the time with 6 friends to each purchase 2 iPhones, and we never deny them service until they mention (or admit to) being a re-seller. This particular story was an exception, not the rule. Sad.

We have people from all over the world visiting our country. Should we ask for passport at cash registers and verify that the product being bought will not go to Iran , Cuba or North Korea ?
Apple can not be held responsible for selling any products to any US consumer, its not their job to control that. The only thing they are responsible for is not shipping any of their products to any of the banned countries.

TWO incidents and in one of the said girl told the person she was 'from Iran'. She goes on with some talk about how it was none of his business which is what she should have told them. Or said America since she is an American. But she said "from Iran".
Yeah the guy was an idiot to not consider that refusing service for any reason would piss off the customer and is best handled by a manager from the start but based on what she told him he wasn't being racist simply because she was speaking Farsi as some blogs and such have tried to claim.
Who knows what the iPhone kid said to that sales person. He might have been trying to buy an unlocked GSM phone and also implied he was from Iran.