The US Treasury Department issued a general license on May 30, 2013, “authorizing the exportation to Iran of certain services, software, and hardware incident to personal communications.” (Photo: The Treasury Annex, credit LobeLob/AgnosticPreachersKid cc)

Legal Payment Channels Still Needed

(June 3, 2013) Private sector technology companies should take immediate steps in facilitating and ensuring the availability of personal communications items to Iranians following the US administration’s issuance of a general export license for such items, the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.

In addition, the Obama administration should address the need for proper financial channels for Iranians to access these personal communications tools, since current banking and financial sanctions make such fee-based transactions almost impossible for the Iranian people.

“We are very pleased that the Obama administration and the Treasury Department have followed our recommendations in issuing this general license. It is a critical step in providing Iranian citizens with safe and secure access to communications tools, enhancing their freedom of expression and access to information, which the Iranian government is trying to deny them at every turn,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the Campaign’s executive director.

Though it is now legal to export the communications tools and services to Iran, the current comprehensive banking and financial sanctions deny Iranian citizens a financial channel to purchase the fee-based services and consumer items listed in this general license.

The Campaign calls on the US to immediately select a European bank, trained, officially authorized, and supervised by the US Treasury Department, to handle all such transactions, as well as all humanitarian transactions of goods and services.

“This is an important achievement for human rights, Internet, and media freedom advocates. This positive action by the US should be complemented with legal financial channels for such transactions,” Ali Akbar Mousavi, former member of the Iranian Parliament (2000-2004) and an information communications technologies expert, told the Campaign.

For the past three years, the Campaign has been leading a comprehensive advocacy program to ensure Iranians have the ability to use modern technology and safe communications tools and can access the Internet, in order to confront their government’s ever growing digital censorship and restrictions.

As part of these advocacy efforts, on December 6, 2012, in a letter to the Obama administration, the Campaign called for a lifting of sanctions on personal communications tools, which was realized through the general license issued by the US Treasury Department on May 30. The letter was endorsed by Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the National Iranian American Council, United for Iran, and the Center for Democracy & Technology.

The general license lifts sanctions on personal communications tools such as mobile phones, PDAs, SIM cards, modems, routers, laptops, tablets, and personal computing devices, amongst other related software and hardware. Private sector companies may now legally export personal communications tools and services to Iranians.

“These actions taken by the United States recognize that access to information and freedom of expression should not be hindered by international politics,” Collin Anderson, an independent Internet security expert, told the Campaign.

“These changes reflect the strength of cooperation between civil society organizations on the pressing matters facing human rights in Iran, as well as the constructive role that governments can play in this dialogue. Now that the Obama Administration has done its part, the responsibility is on companies to ensure that they do their part to protect the free flow of communications to Iran,” he added.

The Campaign welcomes the Obama administration’s positive step towards facilitating access to information in Iran, and calls on the administration to follow through with legal financial channels for Iranians to access the communications tools.