• 21 March 2012
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Sanctions

Yesterday, President Obama released his Norooz message, which has now become an annual White House tradition marking the Iranian New Year.  Thankfully, these messages have actually come with some real substance.  In his  2010 message, Obama promised to increase opportunities for young Iranians to study at American universities, and he followed through by implementing a new multiple entry visa for Iranian students.  This year, he used the opportunity to announce much needed reforms to existing U.S. sanctions that have inadvertently contributed to Internet censorship in Iran.

NIAC praised the move–we have supported legislation in the past to do away with the entire process of licensing for Internet communication tools and services, which errs on the side of restricting and undermining the open exchange of information in Iran.  We’ve argued that opening the floodgates for Iranians to access outside technology is the best way to help Iranians overwhelm and counter government censorship–an open source solution to the problem.

Another important reason to allow applications like Java to be available to Iranians is that, without access to security patches and updated versions of the software, Iranian Internet users are far more susceptible to trojan horses and worms–which the so-called Iranian Cyber Army is well aware of and reportedly exploits.

So, while yesterday’s move was definitely a positive one, we also noted that more needs to be done to ensure U.S. sanctions don’t continue to help disconnect Iranians from the Internet, and to ensure access to satellite Internet and other services, software, and hardware are not blocked by sanctions for ordinary Iranians.  We also point out that the onus is also now on companies (such as GoDaddy, Google, DropBox, Skype, and Oracle) to make their services and software available in Iran.

NIAC’s statement on Obama’s Norooz message is below:

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) welcomes the decision by the Obama Administration to lift sanctions on additional categories of personal communication tools to support the free exchange of information with the Iranian people, which President Obama announced in his speech wishing the Iranian people a happy Norooz.  NIAC strongly encouraged today’s action, and has worked extensively with members of Congress and Executive Branch officials to ensure that US sanctions do not infringe upon the Iranian people’s basic rights to access information and communications tools.

“Today’s announcement is another important step to ensure that U.S. sanctions don’t continue to inadvertently aid the efforts of the Iranian government to put an electronic curtain between the Iranian people and the rest of the world,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi.

Under today’s announcement, the following services and software may generally be exported to Iran without a license:

  • Personal Communications (e.g., Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, Microsoft Live, Skype (non-fee based))
  • Personal Data Storage (e.g., Dropbox)
  • Internet Browsers (e.g., Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer)
  • Browser Plug-ins (e.g., Flashplayer, Shockwave, Java)
  • Document Readers (e.g., Acrobat Readers)
  • Free Mobile Apps Related to Personal Communications
  • RSS Feed Readers and Aggregators (e.g., Google Feed Burner).

In addition, the Treasury Department has announced a “favorable licensing policy” with regards to other categories of tools, including those related to web hosting, online advertising, and paid Internet communication tools.  Under this policy, the onus is still on individual companies to apply for a license so their products can be used in Iran.  NIAC strongly urges companies like Google, GoDaddy, and Skype, which could provide more secure telephone services, to take advantage of this new policy so that Iranians can benefit from their services.

“We hope companies will now take advantage of new policy, but the U.S. Government’s  work is not done,” said Abdi. “Further efforts are needed so that services like satellite Internet and hardware for accessing such services are no longer blocked by sanctions.”

Posted By Jamal Abdi

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Sign the Petition

 

7,348 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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