I spent last week in the Middle East, travelling the region and seeing some sights as well as meeting many banks from across the region.
As always, it’s an interesting space and place, full of Eastern promise as they say.
Right now a lot of the discussion has been around the reactions to the trade sanctions in Iran, the laundering fines of HSBC and Standard Chartered, and the impact it is having.
It has certainly created a division of opinion between the pro-Islam and pro-Israel factions.
I don’t want to get into the politics of this debate, having done that in a previous blog, but I do want to consider how sanctions work in a different way.
Whilst in several Middle Eastern countries, I find the frustrations of bans on access to web services that I rely upon.
Websites such as skype, twitter, youtube, facebook and more are heavily restricted in some territories and, for a few days, I was unable to get access to the blog’s content editor and other services at all.
This is a challenge for a guy who blogs every day, so I started on work arounds.
First, I started emailing back to the UK and asking colleagues on the ground to update the blog remotely.
This was fine, but slow, and reminded me a little bit of using neighbours to perform money transfers and cross-border transactions on behalf of nations banned from the money networks.
It works for a while, but then the neighbours start getting nervous and the transactions are traced.
So, if I moved away from remotely emailing and asking for help to get to my blog, what would be another alternative?
Find another website that could feed the blog.
It can be updated via Facebook, so maybe I could do it that way, except that Facebook access is blocked in many of these countries too. My blog can be updated via mobile texts, so I could write really long text messages and update it that way. But that’s not really workable.
What I need is a feed to the blog, so I could start looking for other ways to update via other sites, which is what I ended up doing.
I won’t say what I did, but will put it in a different context. If I found I couldn’t access BBC News, then I would use Sky News instead. If I found I couldn’t access Facebook and Twitter, I would use LinkedIn instead.
There was always a way around.
This made me think about how I could use the banking system.
If I wanted to work around the banking system, maybe I would find alternative counterparties to get to my end goal. I would find ones that were legitimate to get to my end goal, rather than those that were illegitimate. So I might use a global bank to get from A to C via B without showing it’s me.
But this also gets cracked down upon eventually and becomes hard.
So I go back to square one, and think about how to get to the information I need without barriers.
The easiest way would be to reset my system so that I look like I’m a friend and not a foe.
Reset my IP address so that I appear to be trying to access facebook et al from Europe, rather than the Middle East.
Again, it works if you know how, but technically this is getting more challenging and harder to manage.
But again, it can be done.
Therefore, if my neighbours had alternative routers for getting global transactions through the network, then they can find alternative ways of covering their ground by creating a subsidiary operation in China or Russia to get from the Middle East to America.
For internet access, it’s an IP disguise; for banking, it’s a counterparty cover.
This is getting into tricky territory and can only last for as long as my trusted partners allow me to operate.
So maybe I mix all three approaches and maybe they work or maybe they don’t and, either way, it’s difficult so, in order to work around such bans, what I really need to do is to find a new way to do things.
I need a new model.
Instead of blogging, I need to move into delivering ideas via Skype or iTunes or Pinterest or … the next generation of social media.
And, instead of trying to trade via the traditional banking system, I need to find new ways to trade via neighbours or partners or disguises or … the next generation of trading.
Now what might that be?
I have an answer but don’t think it politic to share, but there are new ways around internet bans all the time, just as there are new ways around trade sanctions all the time.
An interesting and enlightening journey, and one that will be debated for some time to come.
Allowed Not allowed
Sky News BBC News