More tech-related sanctions to lift in Iran

A week has passed since the U.S. Treasury announced it was going to lift a ban on the export of online services like instant messaging, chat, and photo sharing to Iran, Cuba, and Sudan. This was an ineffective ban to begin with: Anyone who wanted to use tools like Google Chrome could already do so ...

A week has passed since the U.S. Treasury announced it was going to lift a ban on the export of online services like instant messaging, chat, and photo sharing to Iran, Cuba, and Sudan. This was an ineffective ban to begin with: Anyone who wanted to use tools like Google Chrome could already do so by using proxies to download it. I am curious what happens to commercial software; I am pretty sure that Iranians won't be able to download American software for which they have to pay, as American businesses can't do business with Iran unless they go through a complicated process of obtaining a waiver.

A week has passed since the U.S. Treasury announced it was going to lift a ban on the export of online services like instant messaging, chat, and photo sharing to Iran, Cuba, and Sudan. This was an ineffective ban to begin with: Anyone who wanted to use tools like Google Chrome could already do so by using proxies to download it. I am curious what happens to commercial software; I am pretty sure that Iranians won’t be able to download American software for which they have to pay, as American businesses can’t do business with Iran unless they go through a complicated process of obtaining a waiver.

Nevertheless, lifting the ban on this fine assortment of free software is a small step in the right direction. But U.S. officials shouldn’t stop there, for they still haven’t addressed a much more important problem, namely the fact that Iranians still do not have access to the same tools for supporting their websites as bloggers and Web entrepreneurs elsewhere. They can’t, for example, use Google AdWords to generate cash from showing ads on their sites: Google doesn’t list Iran as an option in any of the menus available on Google AdWords. This is hardly surprising given blanket restrictions that American companies face when doing business with Iran — but Google could at least be publicly voicing those concerns rather than simply embracing the Treasury’s decision with open arms. I have yet to see a Google rep publicly complain about the inability to sell Google ads in Iran.

As I’ve already blogged about here, keeping Iranians out of Google ads creates an extremely unhealthy environment where Iranian Internet projects — even the most popular ones — can’t finance themselves and have to rely on handouts from foundations and Western governments. This, of course, further taints their reputation in the eyes of the regime, as any foreign funding is perceived as a precursor of a revolution. Granted cashing a U.S. check from Google in Iran may not be an easy walk either, but I am sure that it would create fewer risks than cashing a check from any of the 60 organizations identified by the Iranian government as enemies of the state. Without introducing such granularity into its own sanctions regime, the U.S. government pushes its most loyal supporters in Iran toward taking risks that are completely unnecessary.

Evgeny Morozov is a fellow at the Open Society Institute and sits on the board of OSI's Information Program. He writes the Net Effect blog on ForeignPolicy.com

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