By: Jamal Abdi, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Washington, DC - It is well known that the Iranian government censors and monitors the Internet inside of Iran, denying Iranians the basic right to free communication. While there has been positive rhetoric from Iranian President Rouhani and his cabinet with regard to opening access for Iranians to social media and other Internet communications, there has been little action to this effect.
Unfortunately, some U.S.-based companies are unintentionally complicit in helping deny Iranians access to online communications. Yahoo, which has begun blocking Iranians from establishing email accounts, is the latest example.
In September 2013, Yahoo revised its registration process to require users to provide a phone number for new accounts. Country codes belonging to countries sanctioned by the United States were disabled, meaning Iranians have been effectively prevented from setting up new Yahoo accounts.
This does not just prevent new accounts, it also hurts Iranians who have existing Yahoo accounts who are prevented from activating the more secure “two step verification” feature, which requires a phone number. As a result, Iranians are forced into a lower tier of security for their personal communications and their Yahoo accounts are more vulnerable to being hacked.
This is a big deal. 63% of Iranians use Yahoo as their primary email--more than any other email service. Cutting off this service, and forcing Iranians with existing accounts to settle for less secure login, makes Iranians more vulnerable. Yahoo's move could even force more Iranians to rely on email provided by the Iranian government.
Yahoo is not the first tech company that has blocked its services for Iranians due to an over-enforcement of sanctions. For many years sanctions on Iran prevented companies from allowing Iranians to access certain online services, download software, or obtain communications hardware. Even as many in Washington cheered (and even hyped) the role of social media among Iranian human rights and democracy defenders, many online tools were blocked by sanctions.
But since 2009, NIAC and other groups have worked to lift sanctions on communications tools for the Iranian people. The Obama Administration has responded proactively, issuing increasingly broad general licenses over time to exempt communications hardware, software, and services from sanctions.
Many companies have been responsive, especially after public and private outreach efforts by NIAC and other organizations. Companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Go Daddy have begun providing their services to Iranians after years of blocking them.
Yahoo, unfortunately, has not taken appropriate action. Late last year, NIAC teamed up with groups like Berim, United For Iran, and International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran to call on Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to reverse this policy and allow email for Iranians.
Now, our groups are looking to build public pressure to convince Yahoo it is time to correct this policy. Will you help convince Yahoo to reverse this policy? Take a moment to sign the petition to urge Yahoo's CEO to stop blocking email for Iranians.
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