On Thursday, the Obama Administration lifted digital sanctions that, for more than two decades, have prevented companies that do business in the US from also selling or distributing digital goods—including mobile phones, hosting services, VPNs, and software updates—to Iran.
In a five-page document published by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), effective immediately, the following transactions are authorized:
(1) The exportation or re-exportation, directly or indirectly, from the United States or by US persons, wherever located, to persons in Iran of fee-based services incident to the exchange of personal communications over the Internet, such as instant messaging, chat and e-mail, social networking, sharing of photos and movies, Web browsing, and blogging.
. . .
(4) The exportation or re-exportation, directly or indirectly, from the United States or by US persons, wherever located, to persons in Iran of consumer-grade Internet connectivity services and the provision, sale, or leasing of capacity on telecommunications transmission facilities (such as satellite or terrestrial network connectivity) incident to personal communications.
The move is an expansion of related revisions to American sanctions law against Iran. In March 2010, OFAC announced new amendments to sanctions against Iran, which officially made it legal under American law for non-commercial software to make themselves available to Iranians. The new changes explicitly make it legal for American companies to provide online services (Facebook, Twitter), but also VPNs, mobile app stores, and anti-censorship software to Iranians. In addition, firms can sell mobile phones, satellite phones, and computers to people inside the Islamic Republic.