STATEMENT: OTI Applauds Obama Administration’s Move to Improve Access to Tech for Iranian Citizens

Published:   June 3, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute [OTI] commends the Obama Administration for taking steps to increase the availability of personal and secure communications tools for Iranian citizens. On May 30, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a new general license authorizing the export of certain software, services, and hardware by U.S. companies that can be used for personal communications.

“The new general license is a positive step by the U.S. government and we look forward to seeing it implemented,” said OTI Program Associate Danielle Kehl. “We hope that American companies will heed the reforms and help support human rights online.”

The new policy comes at a critical time, since Iran is just two weeks away from its first presidential election after the Green Revolution of 2009.  The Iranian government has been increasing surveillance and strengthening its filtering regime prior to the vote, making the availability of communications tools even more vital to the work of human rights activists and dissidents. Without access to many American-made products, Iranians can be forced to rely on less secure tools that make them more vulnerable to malware and hacking.

General License D, which goes into effect immediately, makes it legal for U.S. companies to export a variety of personal communications technologies that can help Iranian citizens communicate safely and securely. The list includes mobile phones, laptops and personal computers, anti-virus software, and anti-censorship and surveillance tools.  U.S. policymakers have attempted to incorporate Internet freedom into the Iranian sanctions regulations in the past four years. The Treasury Department issued a general license in 2010 exempting certain free, Internet-based communications software and services from the sanctions. In 2012, OFAC published additional guidance, including specific examples of technologies that were permissible. The recent announcement builds upon that work by expanding the types of technology covered to include more software as well as fee-based hardware and products.

“This is a great example of how the concept of smart sanctions is being translated for the digital age,” said OTI Program Associate Tim Maurer. “The new general license covers Iran, but we hope the Administration will consider mirroring it in the sanctions regimes for other repressed countries.”

The Open Technology Institute would like to express appreciation to the coalition of civil society groups and advocates that worked on this critical issue.

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