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May 27, 2009

Cutting off communication one messenger at a time

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Microsoft has opted to participate in sanctioning Iran, but more so the Iranian people by cutting off Windows Live Messenger. As reported by ITP,

Cuba, Syria, Iran, Sudan and North Korea are all affected by the surprising move, with a company spokesperson clarifying to the media that: “Microsoft has discontinued providing Instant Messenger services in certain countries subject to United States sanctions. Details of these sanctions are available from the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control.”

According to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) website, the US Department of Treasury enforces economic and trade sanctions based on US foreign policy and national security goals against “targeted foreign countries and regimes, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other threats to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.”

Iranian youth have been ingenious in learning how to maneuver around Iranian governmental censorship on blogs and Facebook. Syrians have already found a way around the blocked site-  Itp.net found that Syrians are presently using the blocked service by changing the ‘country/region’ under the Home Location tab on their Live.com account.
With the plethora of instant messaging services such as Yahoo! Messenger and Google’s Gchat,  I don’t suspect Windows Live Messenger will be missed much.
The US prides itself on promoting free speech around the world. The State Department has gone so far as to fund media sites such as VOA and Radio Farda to open lines of communication with Iran. So why impose such broad sanctions which would limit the communication of Iranian youth who are most likely using the messaging technology? Perhaps the State and Treasury Department should start messaging each other so that they can stop undermining each other’s policies.

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