US clears way for social media to reach human rights activists

Amendments issued by Treasury allows exporting of social networking, chat and e-mail software to Iran, Sudan and Cuba

The Treasury Department has modified trade sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba to allow the export of social media and other Web-related technologies that could aid the work of human rights activists.

Existing trade regulations prohibit companies from selling technology and other goods to people located in those countries. However, U.S. officials believe Web-based applications, such instant messaging, chat and blogging software, could open a new avenue for activists in those countries to work together and with other activists around the world.

The amendments were issued to ensure that individuals in those countries can “exercise their universal right to free speech and information to the greatest extent possible,” according to a March 8 announcement from Treasury.

"Consistent with the administration's deep commitment to the universal rights of all the world's citizens, the issuance of these general licenses will make it easier for individuals in Iran, Sudan and Cuba to use the Internet to communicate with each other and with the outside world,” said Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin.

"As recent events in Iran have shown, personal Internet-based communications like e-mail, instant messaging and social networking are powerful tools,” Wolin said.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued the amendments to the Iranian Transactions Regulations, Sudanese Sanctions Regulations, and Cuban Assets Control Regulations.

The new general licenses authorize exports from the United States to people in Iran and Sudan of software related to the exchange of personal communications over the Internet, including Web browsing, blogging, e-mail, instant messaging, chat and social networking, according to Treasury. The amendments also state that specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis for the exportation of software used to share information over the Internet not covered by the general licenses.

The sanction regulations on Cuba were also amended to include similar authorizations for the exportation of Web services to Cuba. Unlike Iran and Sudan, the exportation of goods and technology, including software, to Cuba is separately licensed by the Commerce Department, according to Treasury.

The amendments are related to the December 2009 notification submitted to Congress by the State Department of a waiver recommended under the Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act to authorize the exportation of free mass market software to Iran necessary for the exchange of personal communications, according to Treasury.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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