Occasionally, a user will ask a question looking for specific technical advice, i.e. working code implementing a mathematical model and/or principle. This is usually not a problem, but I am curious what the protocol is when the user is from a nation against which sanctions prohibiting the transfer of technology have been imposed.

Working source code implementing, say, a Kalman filter may be considered "technology." What is Math.SE's role (or SE's role in general) in adhering to these sanctions. What responsibility does a Math.SE user have in ensuring that they do not inadvertently provide such technology to a resident of a sanctioned country?

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I have a long list of nations to whom I give no technical advice. These nations have just a single inhabitant each, hence the length of the list. –  Will Jagy Dec 17 '12 at 21:26
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@WillJagy Yes but the fundamental question is whether your list maps one-to-one to the UN's list of nations. –  Arkamis Dec 17 '12 at 21:32
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Could you please provide a reference on these technology transfer prohibitions? –  Jonas Meyer Dec 17 '12 at 21:39
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Not entirely by the way, I am getting less and less fond of fixing algorithms for clueless programmers. There is no joy in it. The mathematical structures involved have no reality for them, they are very judgemental at the same time "It still doesn't work," and a successful result is "It works now. Bye." –  Will Jagy Dec 17 '12 at 21:43
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@JonasMeyer No, it would be too long, as there are a number of factors. Does SE operate as a US-based entity? Does it pass liability down to its users, and hence do the nature of the sanctions depend on the residency of the users (if your home country has no sanctions, then is there no issue)? I don't know these answers; hence my question. –  Arkamis Dec 17 '12 at 21:43
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I don't understand the question. –  user17762 Dec 17 '12 at 21:54
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@EdGorcenski I don't think that kind of questions belong to MSE. –  Makoto Kato Dec 17 '12 at 22:15
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@EdGorcenski Then they should be closed as not appropriate questions to this site. –  Makoto Kato Dec 17 '12 at 22:17
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@MakotoKato Not necessarily. There are many legitimate numerical-methods type questions. The uncertainty comes when the answer to a legitimate numerical-methods question involves creating source code. –  Arkamis Dec 17 '12 at 22:19
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I sure hope the answer is "none". Otherwise I guess we'll have to split the site into goodguys.math.SE and badguys.math.SE. Save it for politics.SE when it opens up. –  Dan Brumleve Dec 17 '12 at 22:59
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I'm no international relations expert, but it seems to me that, at least in the sanctions text quoted, the words "intended specifically for" and "exclusively or predominately to" let you off the hook. Answers posted here are intended specifically for the entire Internet, not exclusively or predominately for Iran or North Korea. –  Rahul Dec 18 '12 at 1:54
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If you are seriously concerned about personally breaking US law, then I suggest that you get professional advice. –  Phira Dec 18 '12 at 13:43
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Phira's comment above was flagged as rude. I read it as suggesting that you get in contact with a lawyer, which is quite reasonable. Therefore I have dismissed the flag. –  Zev Chonoles Dec 22 '12 at 17:52
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@EdGorcenski I did not flag the comment, but my initial interpretation of "professional advice" was "psychiatric help". –  Austin Mohr Dec 27 '12 at 5:33
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Good question!! –  rschwieb Dec 28 '12 at 20:52
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2 Answers

All publicly-visible information about a user is provided by the user without verification. To differentiate given information based upon optionally-given information would lead to users simply lying about where they are.

Further, this site does not prevent users from reading data. So any information given about any "technology" is available, even if it was not intended for someone behind a 'sanction wall.'

If we were actually trafficking in particularly difficult or impossible technologies, then perhaps we would make a bigger deal out of it. So as far as I can tell, you have no responsibility to pay attention to what content you provide to anybody.

To respond to the comments, I would say the answer is "none." Just don't go around telling people how to make bombs.

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You mix censored with equal parts of censored over heat of censored degrees centigrade until it becomes a uniform goo. Be very careful as the mixture is very unstable. Stuff the mixture into a closed tube, or a small container, add a fuse and you're done. :-) –  Asaf Karagila Dec 18 '12 at 7:26
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Mr. President, we must not allow an inaccessible cardinal gap! –  Dan Brumleve Dec 18 '12 at 19:16
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Before the end of this decade we will land a person on an inaccessible cardinal. –  Jay Dec 20 '12 at 0:02
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I think that the advice, " Just don't go around telling people how to make bombs" is generally good advice. –  Baby Dragon Dec 20 '12 at 18:26
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Given the lack of consensus on whether and if so how we should enforce the rules of math contests, I see no consensus emerging that we should enforce foreign policy. Even less so US policy, many, many users are from other countries.

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A key difference is that enforcement regarding math contest rules is a matter of ethics and morality; enforcement regarding actual codified export regulations is a matter of legality. I think it is unlikely that anything that gets answered here becomes the one key piece of code needed to construct a nuclear weapon, but then again men in suits and sunglasses aren't going to contact you if you give little Johnny a solution to an online math exam. –  Arkamis Dec 18 '12 at 16:52
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@EdGorcenski If you are interested in the legal side of the matter, you should clearly state so in your OP. In particular, you should not formulate your post in a manner that suggests that math.SE users are all US residents, it is extremely off-putting. The last half-sentence of your comment does not make sense when combined with the content of your first sentence. Please decide whether your want to discuss ethics or US laws and make that clear in your OP. –  Phira Dec 18 '12 at 18:28
    
@Phira Perhaps you should read my OP and comments more carefully. –  Arkamis Dec 18 '12 at 18:30
    
@Phira In case it is not clear, my OP specifically generalized the situation, as many countries have sanctions against many other countries. I also specifically asked about the level of responsibility that an SE user has (independent of home country) to ensure that they are not violating any laws. I also specifically responded to Jonas saying that it was impossible to provide complete reference to such sanctions, as there are too many combinations of countries of residence of affected users, and my discussion of US policy was clearly provided as a singular specific example. –  Arkamis Dec 18 '12 at 18:35
    
@EdGorcenski You generalized "the situation" (which is to be inferred but not actually mentioned), but you will certainly not be interested in answers that are not applicable to US policy and there is no universal Earth law that is applicable here. It is a pseudo-generalization that pretends to be general when actually only talking about US residents, and it is not even understandable when one doesn't know the US situation. What would you do with a "general" question about legal liability when talking about the crimes of a dictatorship? –  Phira Dec 18 '12 at 18:41
    
@Phira There is no universal Earth law but there is only one Math.StackExchange. In such a case the answer is either "as a content host based in <insert country here>, Math.StackExchange has a responsibility to adhere to <insert country here>'s export controls" or "Math.StackExchange assumes no responsibility over its content, control over technical information is therefore the responsibility of the user." My question is which is the case? –  Arkamis Dec 18 '12 at 18:45
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Finally, your assertion that this is purely a US interest is quite wrong. There are, in fact, multinational sanctions that would appeal broadly to users from a range of nationalities. For instance, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. –  Arkamis Dec 18 '12 at 18:51
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@EdGorcenski: Hi Ed -- I disagree with several things you wrote in the above comments. Your OP did not specifically generalize the situation; all references to countries are to the sanctioned countries; the sanctioning country isn't mentioned. I had the same impression as Phira did that you were asking a US-centric question without stating it and possibly without being aware of it. You mentioned the UN in your first comment and now again in the above comment, but at least to me that merely reinforces the impression that you're not aware that the restrictions of the sort that might impede –  joriki Dec 19 '12 at 11:34
    
the exchange of knowledge on math.SE are overwhelmingly US laws. I'm not an expert on this, but as far as I'm aware the UN resolution you link to above does not place restrictions on technology transfer of the kind that the US does that could easily be relevant for this site, e.g. on encryption algorithms. It does not place a general ban on technology transfer to Iran leaving it up to us to decide what might be considered to contribute to enrichment; it refers to very specific documents that list technologies. –  joriki Dec 19 '12 at 11:34
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I haven't looked through all those documents, but as far as I'm aware there is nothing like the US laws against encryption algorithms there. I'm pretty sure there's nothing about Kalman filters in it; in fact I'd be surprised if there were anything in it that wasn't quite specifically knowledge about nuclear technology that you would know if you had it and would already have been briefed on how to deal with without relying on a meta question. –  joriki Dec 19 '12 at 11:35
    
If you want to remove generality, then the US, UK, India, and many EU nations all have similarly worded sanctions against Iran, for instance. I fail to see how this is US centric when I found this list in literally 5 seconds of Google searching -- which is incidentally the first thing I did before asking my question, to ensure that it is relevant to many users. If you want to pretend that this is an American problem only, then there is not much I can do to convince you, other than enumerate the list of regulations originating from various countries, each with intentionally vague language. –  Arkamis Dec 19 '12 at 14:13
    
In any case, I don't particularly care about the specifics of who bans transfer of what to whom. I want to know whose responsibility it is to ensure appropriate laws are followed. –  Arkamis Dec 19 '12 at 14:16
    
@EdGorcenski: I only saw you comment now (since you didn't ping me). I regret the combative tone of your reply. I don't intend to "pretend" anything; I'll try to look at any arguments and documents you present on their merits. You twice refer to a list and it seems you mean a specific list, but I can't find what this refers to in the question or the comments above. Unfortunately I can't see how anything in your reply argues against any of what I wrote. –  joriki Dec 25 '12 at 15:10
    
The US export restrictions on cryptography are quite broad; see e.g. Wikipedia. I haven't seen anything linked to in this thread that demonstrates restrictions by other countries that are similarly specific, restrictive and relevant to this site. The mere fact that many nations have similarly worded sanctions against Iran doesn't bear on our disagreement as long as these sanctions don't apply to algorithms or other results that one might expect to be discussed on this site. –  joriki Dec 25 '12 at 15:13
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It's simple enough for me to avoid answering questions that I might consider to be "on the fringe." But the point of my question is to ascertain whether StackExchange is liable for ensuring that the laws are met, or whether they pass this responsibility onto the users. This is a legitimate question; similar issues have arisen in international copyright cases, for instance. –  Arkamis Dec 25 '12 at 20:53
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