In a letter to Yahoo!, nine human rights and online freedom organizations have urged the Internet giant to end its restrictions on users of its services inside Iran. As a signatory to the letter, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran calls on Yahoo! to uphold its stated mission to promote freedom of expression and allow the personal online communications services that are vital to civil society inside Iran.
In particular, the organizations urged Yahoo! to restore the ability of new Iranian users to register for its email services and to allow the download of Yahoo! Messenger Desktop Client.
The letter notes that Yahoo! email services are the most popular platform in Iran, with 63% of users inside the country relying on it. However, in September 2013, Yahoo! modified its email registration procedure for new accounts, requiring new users to provide a phone number for new accounts. Phone numbers from several countries under US sanctions, including Iran, are neither listed nor accepted for new sign ups. As a result, new registrants from these countries are effectively banned from the email service.
In addition, Yahoo! doesn’t allow the download of its Yahoo! Messenger software, an online voice and video calling service, from sanctioned countries, including Iran.
This is in direct contradiction to the spirit and letter of the US Treasury Department’s release on May 30, 2013 of General License D, which explicitly supports the private sector’s role in protecting online expression in Iran and authorizes the export of information technology, including commercial services and software that are “incident to the exchange of personal communications over the Internet, such as instant messaging, chat and email, social networking, sharing of photos and movies, web browsing, and blogging” to Iran.
The letter called on Yahoo! to end both practices and support freedom of expression and online communications for ordinary Iranians inside the country. The Campaign notes that none of Yahoo!’s major competitors have these restrictions, and that to remain competitive with companies such as Google and Microsoft, Yahoo must enact these changes for its users in Iran.
“Yahoo!’s restrictions are not justified under the current US sanctions regime. Ironically, the Treasury’s announcement referred explicitly to Yahoo! Messenger as an example of personal communications tools that is allowed and exempt from sanctions,” said the Campaign’s executive director, Hadi Ghaemi.
The Campaign hopes that Yahoo will take immediate action to implement the letter’s recommendations. In addition to the Campaign, the other signatories to the letter, which was sent to Marissa Mayer, Chief Executive Officer of Yahoo! on 14 November, 2013 and made public today, include: Human Rights Watch; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Access; New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute; National Iranian American Council; Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans; ASL 19; and United for Iran.