Yahoo! Restores Email Access to Iranian Users

September 26, 2014 Washington, D.C. –  Yahoo! has recently restored Yahoo! email and messaging services to millions of Iranians who have been barred from account registration for the past year.

Beginning September 2013, Yahoo! modified its registration process, requiring new users to provide a phone number for their accounts. However, area codes belonging to countries sanctioned by the United States – including Iran – were omitted from the drop down menu which prevented Iranians from setting up new accounts and downloading the Yahoo! Messenger desktop client.

American companies like Yahoo! faced legal concerns that their services fell under U.S. sanctions. Despite authorization from the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), many American technology companies continued to prevent access to critical informational services for those populations living under repressive censorship. 

With 63% of Iranians relying on Yahoo! email and messaging services, PAAIA and other Iranian American, human rights, and technology organizations were concerned that Yahoo!’s decision to bar Iranians from the  registration process would significantly impair their ability to communicate with each other and the outside world in a safe and secure manner.

On November 14, 2013, PAAIA, along with a coalition of eight other organizations, contacted Yahoo! with a letter asking Yahoo! to remove registration restrictions for the people of Iran as legalized by OFAC’s issue of an Iranian General D License. The general license authorized the exportation of software and hardware services used for personal communication in Iran.  Further clarification was issued by the Department of Treasury in February of 2014 through General License D-1.   

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. The general licenses represent an attempt to increase free expression among the Iranian people, particularly through text messaging, mobile videos, and social media.   

Over the past year, prominent bloggers and technologists, as well as a diverse network of civic organizations have engaged in a sustained campaign to encourage private companies to protect and promote access to the Internet, and to stop engaging in their own censorship regime against the Iranian public.

Following the petition, Yahoo! pledged to reinstate its services to the people of Iran by September 2014. This month, Yahoo! has fulfilled its promise to once again allow Iranian users to access their popular services.

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