The Council for American Islamic Relations, of course, is claiming that the woman was discriminated against because of her Iranian background... which is true. However, I expect this story to go away very quickly, because the Apple store employee behaved exactly in accordance with the US export law called the International Traffic in Arms Regulations or ITAR.
It is against US law to sell or export any technology that could have military applications to foreign countries without permission from the US State Department. All of Apple's products have powerful enough processors that they can be used for military purposes. Anyone who violates this law is subject to criminal penalties (yes, criminal penalties) or their company could be subject to heavy fines.
What is more, is that with the law you have a positive obligation to check the destination of the "military hardware," which means that you need to ask reasonable questions about the destination of the product. You also have the obligation to watch for "Red Flags" and follow up on any obvious signs of illegal export. That is exactly what the Apple employee did. He heard them speaking Farsi... and asked what she was going to do with the iPad. She told him that she was going to send it to a relative in Iran!
Did I mention that if he had sold her the iPad, he would have violated US law and could have been subject to criminal penalties! He could have gone to jail for selling her the iPad.... and all he did was come to work that day at his job in the Apple store.
It gets worse. If the story I read was correct and she is here in the US in a student Visa, he could not even sell the iPad to her for her own use. It could be classified as a deemed export, meaning that selling that kind of technology to a foreign national on US soil is also considered exporting it. She can not legally buy the iPad... or at least he can't legally sell it to her.
I would expect that Apple could be in trouble here anyway, because the customer service representative suggested that she go onto the Apple web site and purchase it there, actively assisting her in circumventing the law.
To sum it up, a college student, legally here in the US, walks into the Apple store and tries to buy an iPad. The store clerk behaves exactly in accordance with the law and refuses to sell it to her. This brings all kind of unwanted media attention into his life and to the store. He could be sued for civil rights violations. Apple can still get in trouble for violating the law because of a poorly trained customer service representative. She does not get her iPad. How did we get to this level of ridiculousness in government regulation?
A few weeks ago when I was at a conference about revitalizing America put on by South Carolina rRpresentative Tim Scott, I asked one question to the Congressmen on a panel.
As a business person, we have spent money to train our executives on compliance with the law. After a four hour briefing on the law the attorneys summed up the briefing like this: We are not really sure what the law means or how to comply with it, the interpretation can change depending on who is enforcing it, and it hasn't really been tested in the courts yet, so we don't really know how it will be applied. How can you run a business in that environment?This is exactly the law that I was talking about in my question. It is so broad because anything can be classified as potentially military use, even paperclips. It is almost impossible to comply with in the normal course of business. This is the type of nonsense US companies have to deal with every day and it has an impact on our ability to create jobs in this country.