December 16, 2009

NIAC Efforts to Reform Sanctions on Internet Tools for Iranians Successful

For Immediate Release

Contact: Phil Elwood

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council welcomes the decision by the Obama Administration to waive provisions of US sanctions that have kept important tools for online communication out of the hands of the Iranian people.  NIAC has worked extensively with members of Congress and Executive Branch officials, both before and after the Iranian presidential election in June, to ensure that US sanctions do not infringe upon the Iranian people’s basic rights to access information and communications tools.

NIAC President Trita Parsi called the decision “an important step in making sure the policies of the US government don’t unintentionally aid the Iranian government’s efforts to silence its people.” “Iranians are standing up to make their voices heard, using the Internet and social media as a powerful tool,” Parsi said, “unfortunately past efforts by the US to sanction Iran have unintentionally put up barriers to Iranians’ access to information on the Internet.  We are pleased that the Obama administration has taken steps to correct that fact.”

In a letter sent to members of Congress yesterday, the State Department explained that it has requested the Office of Foreign Assets Control to authorize the export to Iran of software necessary for the exchange of personal communications or for sharing of information over the internet, such as instant messaging and social networking. “Personal internet-based communications are a vital tool for change in Iran as recent events have demonstrated,” the letter said. “However, U.S. sanctions on Iran are having an unintended chilling effect on the ability of companies such as Microsoft and Google to continue providing essential communications tools to ordinary Iranians.”

Under US sanctions laws, the export to Iran of goods and services is prohibited, including free mass-market software that can be downloaded over the Internet.  Following this decision, companies such as Microsoft and Google who have previously shut down instant messaging services in Iran will be authorized to reopen their programs to Iranian users.

This idea was also raised in HR 4301, the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act, and the State Department’s decision comes two days after that bill was introduced by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA). This May, NIAC reported on Microsoft’s decision to shut down its instant messenger service in Iran, and sent a letter to Microsoft’s corporate offices requesting they reconsider their decision.

In the results of a survey conducted by NIAC this July, 95% of NIAC members support “the lifting of sanctions prohibiting exchanges, communication and interaction between ordinary Iranians and Americans.”




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