March 21, 2012

Obama Norooz promise a good step, more needed to ensure U.S. not part of “Electronic Curtain”

Yesterday, President Obama released his Norooz message, which has now become an annual White House tradition marking the Iranian New Year.  Thankfully, these messages have actually come with some real substance.  In his  2010 message, Obama promised to increase opportunities for young Iranians to study at American universities, and he followed through by implementing a new multiple entry visa for Iranian students.  This year, he used the opportunity to announce much needed reforms to existing U.S. sanctions that have inadvertently contributed to Internet censorship in Iran.
NIAC praised the move–we have supported legislation in the past to do away with the entire process of licensing for Internet communication tools and services, which errs on the side of restricting and undermining the open exchange of information in Iran.  We’ve argued that opening the floodgates for Iranians to access outside technology is the best way to help Iranians overwhelm and counter government censorship–an open source solution to the problem.
Another important reason to allow applications like Java to be available to Iranians is that, without access to security patches and updated versions of the software, Iranian Internet users are far more susceptible to trojan horses and worms–which the so-called Iranian Cyber Army is well aware of and reportedly exploits.
So, while yesterday’s move was definitely a positive one, we also noted that more needs to be done to ensure U.S. sanctions don’t continue to help disconnect Iranians from the Internet, and to ensure access to satellite Internet and other services, software, and hardware are not blocked by sanctions for ordinary Iranians.  We also point out that the onus is also now on companies (such as GoDaddy, Google, DropBox, Skype, and Oracle) to make their services and software available in Iran.
NIAC’s statement on Obama’s Norooz message is below:

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) welcomes the decision by the Obama Administration to lift sanctions on additional categories of personal communication tools to support the free exchange of information with the Iranian people, which President Obama announced in his speech wishing the Iranian people a happy Norooz.  NIAC strongly encouraged today’s action, and has worked extensively with members of Congress and Executive Branch officials to ensure that US sanctions do not infringe upon the Iranian people’s basic rights to access information and communications tools.
“Today’s announcement is another important step to ensure that U.S. sanctions don’t continue to inadvertently aid the efforts of the Iranian government to put an electronic curtain between the Iranian people and the rest of the world,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi.
Under today’s announcement, the following services and software may generally be exported to Iran without a license:

  • Personal Communications (e.g., Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, Microsoft Live, Skype (non-fee based))
  • Personal Data Storage (e.g., Dropbox)
  • Internet Browsers (e.g., Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer)
  • Browser Plug-ins (e.g., Flashplayer, Shockwave, Java)
  • Document Readers (e.g., Acrobat Readers)
  • Free Mobile Apps Related to Personal Communications
  • RSS Feed Readers and Aggregators (e.g., Google Feed Burner).

In addition, the Treasury Department has announced a “favorable licensing policy” with regards to other categories of tools, including those related to web hosting, online advertising, and paid Internet communication tools.  Under this policy, the onus is still on individual companies to apply for a license so their products can be used in Iran.  NIAC strongly urges companies like Google, GoDaddy, and Skype, which could provide more secure telephone services, to take advantage of this new policy so that Iranians can benefit from their services.
“We hope companies will now take advantage of new policy, but the U.S. Government’s  work is not done,” said Abdi. “Further efforts are needed so that services like satellite Internet and hardware for accessing such services are no longer blocked by sanctions.”

Back to top