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March 2, 2010

NIAC Urges Swift Action on Internet Freedom

ImageWashington, DC – NIAC sent a letter today to the Director of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) calling for a general license to support Iranians’ access to information and communication tools online. NIAC has repeatedly called for revisions to US sanctions that block vital communications tools for Iranians.

The full text of the letter is available below.

 

 

 

March 2, 2010

Adam J. Szubin

Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control

U.S. Department of the Treasury

Treasury Annex

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20220

 

Dear Mr. Szubin,

Nearly nine months have now followed the disputed June 2009 Iranian elections that spurred the people of Iran to bravely stand up for their rights and to endure a brutal government response. Amidst the ongoing turmoil, Iranians have utilized the power of the Internet to make their voices heard. Iranians have communicated with one another and broadcast their struggle with the outside world through vital Internet communications software. Without access to such software, Iranians would have even more limited recourse against the Iranian government’s efforts to intimidate activists, silence journalists and clamp down on the flow of information.

Unfortunately, the Iranian people not only face censorship and cyber-spying imposed by their own government, they have also encountered hurdles imposed by US policies denying their access to Internet communication software. Anachronistic restrictions on US software have had the effect of stifling free communication by the people of Iran, and unintentionally aiding the Iranian government’s clampdown on free speech. The United States must address such harmful policies that silence Iranians and stand in the way of Internet freedom in Iran.

I was pleased when the State Department notified Congress on December 15 that it had recommended that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issue a general license authorizing “downloads of free mass market software by companies such as Microsoft and Google to Iran necessary for the exchange of personal communications and/or sharing of information over the internet.” While I strongly support this decision, more than two months have passed since this notification was issued. In this time, Iranians have continued to endure repression and the Iranian government has clamped down further on Iranians’ access to the Internet. Therefore, I urge you to implement this recommendation as swiftly as possible.

As you know, Microsoft and Google continue to block downloads of communication and information software in Iran, citing US sanctions. Recently—in fact, since the State Department issued its recommendation—Sourceforge.net, an invaluable resource for open source software, has begun to block access by individuals in countries listed on OFAC’s sanction list, including Iran. It is critical that OFAC explicitly clarify that it is not the intention of US sanctions to stifle the free flow of information over the Internet. This should be done immediately, before more damage is done and further restrictions are imposed.

I urge you, in coordination with the appropriate Agencies, to issue a general license authorizing the download of software necessary for the free flow of information and personal communication in Iran. This license, which should be permanent and effective immediately, should also declare that such software and related services fall under the “information and informational materials” exemption to US sanctions. OFAC should notify affected companies about the change, and encourage others to pursue similar activities in compliance with US sanctions regulations.

I would like to respectfully request further information regarding OFAC’s progress in developing and implementing its general license for Internet communication software. I would also like to request information regarding the steps OFAC intends to take to ensure that other export restrictions do not unintentionally hinder Iranians’ ability to communicate and access information online.

The Iranian people must know without a doubt that it is their government –not the United States—that is responsible for their repression. By taking these important steps, the United States can help ensure that current sanctions laws serve their intended purpose instead of silencing innocent Iranians.

I look forward to working with you further on this critically important issue, and I eagerly await your response.

 

 

Sincerely,

Trita Parsi

 

 

 

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