OFAC Resolve Clash With First Amendment

Akamai Traffic to Syria
Akamai Traffic to Syria

In may of 2014, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions on trade with Syria, including books and other works by Syrian authors. The sanction on Syrian authors include Syrian nationals in the United States. Pen American Center and other publishers and author groups opposed this move as an infringement on the First Amendment. Last week, OFAC amended the sanction to excluding trade involving publishing. This was a similar move made a decade ago when OFAC amended sanctions on Cuban, Iranian and Sudanese transactions “necessary and ordinarily incidental” to publishing and marketing written works from those regions.

Rosie Malek-Yonan, Assyrian Authoer
Rosie Malek-Yonan, Assyrian Authoer

While OFAC’s amendment makes obvious sense, so does its pre-amended sanction. Trade involves money and the transactions of money in exchange for expression could lead to funding terrorism because “expression” could mean a whole lot of things. Even if trade didn’t involve money or things of monetary value, publishing could be a method of providing communication for terrorists. Of course, providing communication paths is not unique to publishing. Messages could be attached to invoices as well. And then there are the great number of communications devices and software available for free.


About the Author: Marcus Maltempo is a compliance professional with more than a decade of experience helping banks, law firms and clients manage investigations and regulatory responses. He is the author of the forthcoming book History of Money Laundering: How criminals got paid and got away.


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