PAAIA Applauds U.S. Treasury’s Clarification on Communication Technology to Iran

February 11, 2014, Washington, D.C. – On February 7, 2014, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released General License D-1 with respect to certain services, software, and hardware incident to personal communications to Iran.  The new general license provides further clarification and authorization for exportation of such services to Iran.    PAAIA has worked to educate members of Congress on this important issue, encouraged them to discuss this matter with Administration officials as well as classify the right to access online communications and information technology as humanitarian assistance under the law.          

Last year, OFAC released General License D, which authorizes the re-exportation of certain online communication tools and information technology, including those offered at cost to the people of Iran.   The change represents an attempt to increase free expression among the Iranian people, particularly through text messaging, mobile videos, and social media. 

Despite such overtures, American companies faced additional legal concerns, exacerbated by slow processes for specific clarification by Treasury.  A recent collaborative effort by Iranian citizens documented over 60 basic services that are unnecessarily blocked. 

In recent months, both prominent bloggers and technologists, as well as a diverse network of civic organizations have engaged in a sustained campaign to publicly and privately educate policy-makers and companies on how these restrictions run contrary to American foreign policy and negatively impact civic society in Iran. 

“General License D-1 demonstrates what can be accomplished through the collaborative efforts of Iranian Internet users and civil society organizations,” explains Collin Anderson, a Washington D.C.-based researcher who studies Internet freedom in Iran.  “Last week’s license and guidance represent a mature and sophisticated legal policy, addressing many of the concerns raised by the coalition of groups and individuals over the past year.”

Few sanctions issues have received as much attention by the Obama Administration and Congress as the unintended chilling effect of sanctions on access to technology. General License D-1 represents the fourth legal revision on protecting personal communications, each time dramatically expanding the list of allowable items and transactions to develop smarter sanctions.

According to Anderson, General License D-1 demonstrates a commitment by the Obama Administration to ensure that ordinary Iranians are not caught in the cross-fire between governments.  “The administration’s actions clearly signal it is now the responsibility of private companies to protect and promote access to the Internet, and to stop engaging in their own censorship regime against the Iranian public.”

PAAIA will continue to follow up on this issue and will provide updates as appropriate.

Click here read analysis of General license D-1 from Ferrari Legal, P.C.

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