US softens Internet export rules for Iran, Sudan and Cuba

US Treasury looks to bolster foreign free speech efforts

Looking to facilitate what it calls free speech rights in countries that don't look favorably at such liberties, the US government today said it would ease the regulations around exporting Internet-based applications such as e-mail, blogging and social networking software to Iran, Sudan and Cuba. 

Specifically the Treasury Department said it would add general licenses authorizing the exportation of free personal Internet-based communications services - such as instant messaging, chat and email, and social networking - to Cuba, Iran and Sudan.  The amendments also allow the exportation of related software to Iran and Sudan, the department said in a release (the US Commerce Department controls software exports with Cuba). Until now all such exports were would have broken federal laws.   

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The general licenses authorize exports from the United States to persons in Iran and Sudan of services and software related to Internet communications including web browsing, blogging, email, instant messaging, and chat; social networking; and photo and movie sharing. The amendments also provide that specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis for the exportation of services and software used to share information over the Internet that not covered by the general licenses, the department stated. 

"As recent events in Iran have shown, personal Internet-based communications like email, instant messaging and social networking are powerful tools.  This software will foster and support the free flow of information - a basic human right - for all Iranians," said Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin.  "At the same time as we take these steps, the Administration will continue aggressively to enforce existing sanctions and to work with our international partners to increase the pressure on the Government of Iran to meet its international obligations." 

The rule changes could help companies such as Microsoft and Google who have been looking to offer more services in those countries. 

According to a New York Times article: "The decision underscores the complexity of dealing with politically repressive governments in the digital age: even as the Obama administration is opening up trade in Internet services to Iran, it is shaping harsh new sanctions that would crack down on Iranian access to financing and technology that could help Iran's nuclear and missile programs. 

Critics have said these sanctions are leaky and ineffective, and some say it makes more sense to spread digital technology, which makes it harder for governments to restrict the flow of information within societies, and to prevent their people from contact with the outside world." 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter @ nwwlayer8

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