July 15, 2009

Microsoft Continues to Ban Windows Live Messenger in Iran, Citing US Sanctions


Washington DC – In the midst of the post-election unrest in Iran, Microsoft has continued its ban on Windows Live Messenger service, citing US sanctions. The ban, which was instituted last year, discontinued Instant Messenger services in certain countries subject to United States sanctions, including Iran. According to Dharmesh Mehta, director of Windows Live Product Management, “Microsoft is one of several major Internet companies that have taken steps aimed at meeting their obligations to not do business with markets on the U.S. sanctions list.”

In conversations with the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), NIAC has learned that Microsoft instituted the ban with no prompting from OFAC or the United States government. According to OFAC’s guidance on Iran sanctions, “the receipt or transmission of postal, telegraphic, telephonic or other personal communications, which does not involve the transfer of anything of value, between the United States and Iran is authorized.”

Based on this, NIAC sent a letter to officials at Microsoft this week, criticizing the decision to continue its ban on the messaging services and asking them to reinstate the service.  In the letter, NIAC expressed its disappointment at Microsoft’s decision to limit internet communication in Iran at a time when the Iranian government has restricted access for foreign journalists and is placing heavy constraints on the flow of information to the outside world.  The US State Department recognized the power of internet technology in Iran when it officially requested the popular networking site Twitter to postpone its scheduled maintenance in light of the website’s crucial role in reporting ongoing developments in Iran.  Google, AOL, and other major internet companies have not banned their chat features in Iran, thus a unilateral ban from Microsoft sets a negative precedent for other companies.

Click here to read NIAC’s letter to Microsoft, requesting they remove the ban on their messaging service.




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