• 27 May 2016
  • Posted By Emily Salwen
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian Youth, Sanctions

When Google products that have been blocked for Iranians by the U.S. economic embargo suddenly became available in early May, many Iranians felt a glimmer of hope. For a brief moment, it appeared that Google Analytics, Google Developers and Android’s website for developers would join products like Gmail and the Google Play store that had been made accessible for Iranians over the past few years. Iranians reacted with excitement and positivity on twitter:

But just a few days later these products were once again inaccessible:

The reason for the reimposition of the ban is most likely the U.S. economic embargo on Iran. While many Google products have been exempted from the embargo over the past six years as part of an effort to ensure the sanctions no longer interfered with online communications, the trade embargo still remains in place for communications tools that have commercial applications.

Google Analytics is a service that tracks and records a website’s traffic and provides statistical analysis to help users understand and accommodate their user demographic. Google Developers, another commercial initiative, is a site that provides a forum for software developers, bringing together blogs, discussion groups and tools to encourage innovation and collaboration among users.

Due to sanctions, access to communications technology in Iran has been unstable. During Iran’s Green Movement, citizens mobilized using Facebook and Twitter, yet many of the tools that were being used were technically blocked by the U.S.. On one hand, American officials and lawmakers in 2009 were extolling the virtues of Internet freedom and criticizing the Iranian government’s crackdown on free expression, on the other hand the U.S. policy was to actually prohibit many of the tools necessary for such communications. Iranians were forced to circumvent not just their own government’s repression, but also the economic embargo.

In late 2009, the State and Treasury Departments began to address this contradiction by lifting the embargo on free communications software and offering a more streamlined policy for licensing the export of certain communications tools. It was a small but important step.

However, many of the sanctions remained in place — including not just on services like web hosting or paid software, but on hardware like laptops and phones. And especially as the U.S. expanded economic sanctions on Iran in 2012, there were further instances of communications technology being blocked. There were even several cases of Apple Store employees refusing to sell iPhones or iPads to Iranian Americans because of suspicions that they were going to be sent to family in Iran in violation of the embargo.

As the Apple incidents show, sanctions greatly impact businesses’ decision-making. In 2012, many applications were exempted from the embargo but were still unavailable in Iran because businesses still feared the repercussions of sanctions violations. Recognizing this, the State and Treasury Departments subsequently issued General License D in 2013, explicitly allowing the export of even paid-for personal communications hardware, software and services. The license also made it legal to export devices like mobile phones, satellite phones and computers to Iran. In 2014, this license was expanded and clarified to allow non-U.S. companies to re-export U.S.-made software and hardware from outside the U.S., and U.S. companies to export applicable foreign-made products from third countries.

But even with these welcome steps, there are still barriers in place. In 2016, nuclear-related sanctions have been lifted, yet services like Google Analytics, Google Developers and even Facebook Ads are not allowed in Iran because they are for commercial use. At a time when Iran is beginning to reintegrate into the global economy, and the U.S. and European governments are actually encouraging such reintegration, the embargo on commercial communications services does not add up.

President Obama himself has extolled the benefits of Iran’s economy opening and “young Iranians who dream of making their mark in the world” having an opportunity to do so. Lifting the remaining communications sanctions would be a step in the right direction that would particularly benefit young Iranian entrepreneurs. The U.S. should go further and lift restrictions against investment and mentoring for the professional development of Iranian tech entrepreneurs. The Iranian tech industry is steadily growing and Iranians will benefit greatly from access to U.S. commercial technologies. Hopefully, the U.S. government will work together to make these important changes a reality.

Posted By Emily Salwen

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