The U.S. technology-related sanctions against Iran; what you need to know
Iran has one of the most emerging startup spheres in the region with a significant potential to become the largest online market in the region. But this passion among young Iranian entrepreneurs has been facing various hurdles during the past few years.
Nature of running a startup accompanies with challenging many issues but there is an extra battlefield in which Iranian startups have to battle: Technology-related Sanctions!
History of the U.S. sanctions against Iran
The U.S. economic sanctions against Iran began right after the 1979 Islamic Revolution because of disputes happened between two countries but they expanded later in 1995 and then followed by the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions to impose more international sanctions against Iran because of what they called it “Concerns over Iran’s nuclear program”. These sanctions were supposed to target the government of Iran but day after day it turned into a direct weapon against Iranian citizens who had nothing to do with these political stuff who were being punished only because of their nationality.
Some parts of these sanctions are related to Iran’s nuclear program which were negotiated for many years that led to a deal between Iran and P5+1 and is known as JCPOA. But unfortunately almost none of the technology-related sanctions imposed by the U.S. — which is the subject of our talk — lifted under the JCPOA and even escalated after the implementation of Iran deal.
After reaching that deal and signing the JCPOA, the sparkle of hope had germinated in the hearts of tech community members in Iran that these pressures will slow down and hopefully stop but it didn’t happen and they started to complain on the social media. If you understand Persian language, just take a look at فناتحریم# hashtag on Twitter (which is an abbreviation for tech sanctions in Persian).
I’d like to emphasize on this again, almost all of these technology-related sanctions are just directly targeting individuals and private businesses in Iran and has no effect on the government of Iran.
The rest of this story will cover just “some” real world cases of tech-related sanctions (most of them happened within the past 12 months) we’re facing in Iran; just to give you an image of how it looks like when you suffer from the lack of basic services and technologies everyone can use in the world but we’re “BANNED”!
Want to register a TLD? Oh! No!
Iranian clients of Resello got an email from this company couple of months ago announcing that they would face some “restrictions” if they want to continue using this company’s service; these restrictions seemed more like a “ransom”:
As you see, unlike many other similar cases, they didn’t announce a full termination policy, instead Resello is using this opportunity to make more money!
This isn’t the first time that domain registrars and hosting providers are behaving like this toward their Iranian clients. I personally have had several bad experiences with companies like OnlineNIC, GoDaddy, DreamHost, ASPNix and etc. in the past years and many of them terminated our accounts with or without prior notices that caused in financial damages and they never responded properly on this matter.
Are you an Iranian developer? You’re guilty by default!
If you’re a software developer working in Iran you need to get used to these stupid restrictions on a daily basis! Let me tell you some:
- You cannot use Google Code, Google Cloud Platform, Google Analytics, Firebase and many other services from Google if they detect you’re residing in Iran. This is sometimes done by a simple IP filtering and sometimes more complicated where you cannot access some of these services even if you’re using a VPN and hiding your IP address!
- Bitbucket, JIRA and many other services from Atlassian (an Australian company) are forbidden for Iranian users.
- Microsoft doesn’t offer its cloud service called “Azure” to Iranian developers.
- Many other giant tech companies like Sun (Java), Oracle, Adobe, etc. have banned Iranian IP addresses from accessing and downloading products and resources from their websites.
- Freelancers living in Iran are banned from making money on Envato Marketplace.
Apple: The Double Standard!
Despite there is no official Apple Store in Iran, this country is one of their biggest — unofficial — markets in the region.
It was during the WWDC 2017 that Apple announced adding the Persian keyboard to iOS 11 as well as adding Iran to the list of regions. Many users considered this as a good sign from Apple to give better support to Iranian users but what happened a few weeks later shattered this dream!
Imagine you’re an individual developer or company, waking up in the morning and see an email from Apple telling you that your application is removed from the App Store; this is what happened to dozens of Iranian startups in July 2017:
All applications which have been removed from the App Store had received an email with the same content and they never got any further explanation from Apple’s iTunes Connect (Apple’s developer console to manage and publish applications on the App Store). None of these apps (Delion, Digikala, Snapp, Tap30, Alopeyk, …) have not been able to return to the App Store by the time of writing this.
Following this, Google, did the same and removed some of these applications from Google Play Store too:
The importance of these restrictions applied by Apple gets bold when you compare it to the Android ecosystem. There are dozens of markets for Android apps out there on which you can publish your applications, so this is no big deal; but there is no other official and secure store for iOS applications other than App Store. No other choice, you’re stuck!
Every company is putting more pressures now!
Everyday, more companies are joining the sanctions club by restricting access to their services and products to end users in Iran.
- You may know TeamViewer, a useful application lets you remotely access another machine. They’ve recently banned Iranian IP addresses too.
- Adobe Connect is a service used by various organizations across the world to hold teleconference sessions. You cannot access it from an Iranian IP address.
- During the recent earthquake happened in the region near the Iran-Iraq border; Facebook failed badly by limiting the Safety Check to people in Iraq only! Racial discrimination or sanctions?!
It’s good to know all these restrictions from American and non-American companies (who are afraid of possible negative consequences of providing services to users in Iran) are happening while there is a General License D-1 from OFAC indicating that offering free-based software and services is not prohibited but it doesn’t look effective yet.
I’m not a lawyer, hence, I don’t claim this license exempts all the technology-related services but it seems even those services who fit in the boundaries of this license don’t dare to apply it and prefer to keep restrictions in place to avoid any clashes with the U.S. government.
These sanctions have effects on the other areas such as participation of Iranians in technology-related events as well. Let me give you two examples:
- Couple of months ago I got a fund from the Internet Society to attend the IGF 2016 in Mexico but right after they noticed I hold an Iranian passport they cancelled my fund and told me due to OFAC sanctions they cannot proceed with my ambassadroship fund. This happened while ICANN has similar fellowship programs and they have resolved this years ago by applying for an exemption OFAC license and got it.
- Those who wanted to attend the Mobile World Congress 2018 noticed that the organizer of the event has warned about issuing a visa invitation letter for attendees from Iran, Syria and Cuba.
The tweet (in Persian) says: “We should thank our friends at the Mobile World Congress that this year they don’t even receive registrations from Iranian visitors!”; this refers to the fact that there wasn’t such a restriction before.
All these stupid restrictions are still in place and is escalating every day whilst the potential of the tech community in Iran is very high as we’re witnessting hundreds of them are running at high level positions around the world.
Iranian-Americans in Silicon Valley are Getting More Powerful
Today marked another milestone for the Iranian-American tech community in Silicon Valley. Uber’s board of directors…
So, I believe this should be reviewed and revised by the U.S. government and private companies very carefully to find some wise solutions in order to stop punishing end users and startups.
I’m personally doing my best to raise our voices on this and let the world know how stupid these policies are; the latter was my comment to the ICANN Board during the ICANN60 in Abu Dhabi:
P.S.: If you know any other similar case and you think it should be added to this article, please let me know.