Dear Secretaries Mnuchin and Pompeo,
We are technologists from across the United States writing to ask that you suspend sanctions on Iran for at least 120 days. Doing so would give the Iranian people access to more resources to combat the spread of coronavirus that is ravaging the country. This call is urgent as Iran is an epicenter of the coronavirus with over 53,000 cases and 3,200 dead. There is no doubt that when you read this, those numbers will be higher. The situation is dire and escalating daily. Pandemics know no borders and the worse the threat grows inside Iran, the worse off the rest of the world will be. That’s why this call is also being made by prominent national security experts, former U.S. and EU diplomats, U.S. members of Congress, and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights.
The coronavirus crisis has upended the lives of millions of people across the U.S. and one thing that has made it easier to navigate these unprecedented times has been digital connection. So many people are turning to the internet and to the platforms that we’ve built to shop for needed supplies, to check in on loved ones, to escape with movies, and to access the latest information to keep themselves safe.
We know that the Iranian government has a shameful record of censorship and has a history of shutting down the internet. Many of us have spoken up about those outages and done what we can to help support people in Iran to stay connected. That work has become harder in recent years because of the policy of ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions that have been put in place by this administration.
There is a general license and existing exemptions for technology that supports the people in Iran. Yet even those exemption regulations are complex, have key gaps especially relating to apps developed in Iran and are difficult for companies to navigate. Overall, the wide breadth of sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S, along with the threat of secondary sanctions on companies that do business with Iran has chilled the market in such a way that, despite exemptions, many companies around the world are not risking business with entities in Iran.
You have stated that your goal is to support the people of Iran. Yet the sanctions regime has already resulted in some companies being forced to take down apps that help people in Iran access information, connect to their families, or access some levity in these unprecedented times. Given the strain on our own lives, businesses and communities, it is near impossible for us to negotiate those regulations responsibly and effectively.
Suspending sanctions will give us the clarity we need to ensure that apps, websites, and other technology can be available to people who need it at a time when connection feels so crucial in safeguarding our humanity.
That’s why we’re asking for you to suspend all sanctions in Iran for at least 120 days. We know that the Iranian government is also responsible for the severity of this crisis but the moral priority in this moment for all of us is to save lives and support healthcare workers.
Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, President of New Media Ventures.
Peter Eckersley, Convener, stop-covid.tech
Allen Gunn, Executive Director, Aspiration
Nathan, The Guardian Project
Michel Snook, Network Tech Lead, OPEN
Jack Aponte, Worker-Owner, Palante Technology Cooperative
Idalin Bobé, Founder, TechActivist.Org
Beth Parker, EFA
Nima Fatemi, President of Kandoo
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