NIAC Accuses Apple Stores of Racial Profiling

The National Iranian American Council is accusing Apple Stores of racial profiling in the wake of reports that Farsi-speaking Americans have been refused sale of iPads, iPhones, and other devices. News reports of Apple Stores refusing to sell devices to Iranians and Iranian-Americans started in Atlanta, where a WSB-TV reporter talked to customers who had been denied sales, and filmed (on an iPhone) a retail employee telling a customer that Apple couldn’t sell her an iPad.

WSB-TV News Report

Apple has not released a statement on the issue, and it has so far not commented to NPR, the above-mentioned Atlanta TV station, and other mainstream media outlets looking for comment. According to Sahar Sabet, the Atlanta resident who was refused sale of an iPad, the Apple Store employee cited Apple’s Export Compliance policy as reason for the refusal.

“When we said ‘Farsi, I’m from Iran,’ he said, ‘I just can’t sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations,’” Sahar Sabet told WSB-TV.

Zack Jafarzadeh claimed to have a similar experience, but in his case he was helping a friend who is from Iran buy an iPhone when they were refused the sale.

“I would say if you’re trying to buy an iPhone, don’t tell them anything about Iran. That would be your best bet,” he told the news station. “We never talked about him going back to Iran or anything like that. He was just speaking full-fledged Farsi and the representative came back and denied our sale.”

Apple’s Export Compliance policy notes that the U.S. maintains a complete embargo against Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, and states that, “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.”

That effectively means that Apple has either been put in the position of enforcing U.S. export bans at the retail level to individuals without any form of authority or due process, or that the company has chosen to put itself in that position. Without word from the company, it’s hard to know which is the case.

In the course of doing so, the company has already refused to sell devices to U.S. citizens of Iranian-descent, and that is bringing negative attention to the company, including charges of racial profiling from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR).

In a call for people to write to Apple CEO Tim Cook, the NIAC said, “Broad sanctions make it illegal for Apple, or any other U.S. company, to send products to Iran—even many communications tools that advance the cause of democracy. But now we are witnessing a private company racially profile their Iranian American customers on the basis of enforcing those sanctions.”

The NIAC added, “This is an insult to our community. It is discrimination and racial profiling on the basis of sanctions and it must stop.”

The group also wrote an open letter demanding that Apple end “discriminatory policies,” and put out an advisory letter concerning both rights and obligations stemming from the U.S. embargo against Iran for those visiting from the country or planning a trip to Iran. That advisory letter was couched in the light of Apple’s retail store actions.

CAIR told its members that, “One woman, a U.S. citizen and University of Georgia student, said an Apple employee refused to sell her an iPad [last] Thursday after hearing her and a relative talking. An Apple Store manager reportedly cited a policy prohibiting sales to Iran.”

Writing for Forbes, Tim Worstall asked, “Does Apple actually understand the export restriction laws?”

In that editorial, he said, “Trying to control this at the level of retail outlets sounds, well, very silly actually. But then the last decade hasn’t been notable for people being adult and sensible about security really, has it?”

Apple is going to find that it is in a very precarious position if the company is going to enforce these policies at the retail level. As the NIAC said, “By denying service to Iranian American and Iranian customers seeking to purchase its products for legal purposes on the basis of ethnicity, Apple is harming both its corporate reputation and deeply insulting and hurting the Iranian-American community.”

Above and beyond charges of racial profiling, which will be unnecessarily damaging to Apple’s reputation, these effort are ultimately futile. Any number of American citizens will be wrongly discriminated against, and any number of sales that actually are intended for eventual export to Iran will be sold to people who don’t get recognized.

This is, as Mr. Worstall wrote, silly.