By Adam Levine
President Barack Obama says he is trying to lift the "electronic curtain" imposed by Iran's leadership by issuing new guidelines to allow American companies involved in Internet services to offer their products to Iranians.
Obama said the government restrictions have gotten more severe "in recent weeks."
"Increasingly, the Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want," the president says in a White House video released Tuesday in celebration of the holiday of Nowruz, Iran's new year. "Instead, the Iranian government jams satellite signals to shut down television and radio broadcasts. It censors the Internet to control what the Iranian people can see and say.
"The regime monitors computers and cell phones for the sole purpose of protecting its own power. Internet restrictions have become so severe that Iranians cannot communicate freely with their loved ones within Iran, or beyond its borders. Technologies that should empower citizens are being used to repress them."
In an effort to "support the free flow of information to citizens of Iran," the U.S. Treasury Department issued new guidelines regarding services and software that can be offered to Iranians under the current sanctions against Iran, provided they are offered free of charge.
The list includes communications software for instant messaging, data storage services like Dropbox's cloud storage, browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome, document readers and RSS readers for news story feeds.
The Treasury Department also announced a "favorable licensing policy" to allow for other services and software not covered in the current guidelines.
The United States has been aggressive in its use of the Internet to try to circumvent government control of democracy movements. In regard to Iran, the administration has set up a "virtual embassy," despite not having a true embassy in Iran, to let Iranians see U.S. messages and get information about visa and student exchange programs.
The State Department sends communications out in Farsi on Facebook, Google and Twitter. The Voice of America service broadcasts a popular Farsi news satire called Parazit.
Since coming into office, the Obama administration has actively supported the construction of detours around Internet censors in repressive environments such as Iran and Syria, thereby enabling activists to communicate with each other and organize without the threat of surveillance by the very governments they are trying to subvert.
The administration says it has issued more than $70 million worth of grants to nongovernmental organizations developing technologies to assist activists inside repressive countries to stay connected, regardless of government efforts to keep them silent.
Recognizing there is no one silver bullet that will work around the world, the State Department is currently supporting the development of more than 20 circumvention technologies. It has also funded research on the degree of repression and the tactics used online by various countries.
As of January 2012, the program had trained nearly 8,000 activists around the world.