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US removes sanctions on computer exports to Iran ahead of next month's elections

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Iranian Flag (Flickr)
Iranian Flag (Flickr)

The US government is lifting a ban on the export of electronic devices like computers, cellphones, and wireless routers to Iran. Al Jazeera reports that the decision is aimed at strengthening communication and avoiding government internet controls ahead of next month’s presidential elections. According to a Treasury Department press release, the general license authorizes exports of equipment to individuals, but not to the Iranian government, or "to any individual or entity on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list."

It also enables the sale of "consumer-grade" internet connectivity services

The license applies not only to communications equipment, but to the provision of fee-based software and services like instant messaging. It also enables the sale of "consumer-grade internet connectivity services," including Virtual Private Network (VPN) service — a popular way for people to skirt the government’s internet filters, but one that the Iranian regime has been cracking down on. However, while the license enables the export of consumer-grade networking equipment like wireless access points, commercial grade telecommunications equipment remains off limits.

Export controls on computer equipment to Iran have been in place since the Cold War ’80s, but many have been calling for a relaxation following 2011’s Arab Spring movement. The issue came to a head in the media last year when a customer at a US Apple store was refused service after being overheard in the store speaking in Farsi. Alongside the question of computer exports, pressure to reevaluate sanctions against Iran more broadly has also been building, with several senior American officials and others handing the Obama administration a critical report last month calling for a major reappraisal of the status quo, and proposing vigorous diplomacy as a way to secure Iranian commitments to limit its nuclear program.