The New York Times' Mark Landler reports that the Treasury Department will today announce an affirmative policy freeing U.S. tech companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, and Google to distribute their products in places like Sudan, Cuba, and in particular Iran. Here's Landler:
The decision, which had been expected, underscores the complexity of dealing with politically repressive governments in the digital age: even as the Obama administration is opening up trade in Internet services to Iran, it is shaping harsh new sanctions that would crack down on Iranian access to financing and technology that could help Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
You might be wondering why, since the focus is on Web-based connective technologies like e-mail and IM that are freely available online, an announcement like this is necessary. Those companies, it seems, have shied away from making their programs downloadable in places where U.S. embargoes and trade restrictions apply.
There's a tension here, as Landler notes. It's been useful, until now, for those in the State Department who have been aggressively pushing to tear down institutional barriers to things like Twitter and Gmail all over the world, to sustain the case that this happens to be a politically agnostic branch of technology.
But time is probably coming soon -- and I'd argue that it's not such a bad thing, in the long run -- for advocates for this approach to counter censorship in Tehran and self-policing on the part of
tech companies with some sort of political case for why Twitter and the rest make up freedom's tool set.
Keep an eye on Haystack, a proxy router in the works to help Iranians evade Internet restrictions there.
-- Nancy Scola