Export Compliance Update: OFAC Issues General License Easing Restrictions On Exportation Of Communications Services, Software, and Hardware To Iran


On May 30, 2013, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) of the United States Department of the Treasury announced the issuance of a general license authorizing the exportation to Iran of certain services, software, and hardware incident to personal communications. The general license will allow U.S. persons to export consumer communications equipment and software to Iranian citizens. As described by Bloomberg Businessweek, the general license will cover a wide variety of software and hardware including mobile phones, satellite phones, laptop computers, modems, broadband hardware, and routers. A copy of the general license can be read here.

As we have previously reported, Iran is already subject to broad and sweeping sanctions which are administered by OFAC. The Iranian Transactions Regulations (“ITR”), which are found at 31 C.F.R. part 560, were promulgated pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. 31 C.F.R. § 560.206 prohibits U.S. persons from “financing, facilitating, or guaranteeing” goods, technology or services to Iran. Additionally, 31 C.F.R. § 560.208 prohibits U.S. persons from approving, financing, facilitating, or guaranteeing any transaction by a foreign person where the transaction performed would be prohibited under the IRT if performed by a U.S. person. However, pursuant to the Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Profileration Act of 1992, the President has the authority to waive the imposition of certain sanctions if such waiver is “essential to the national interest” of the United States. General information regarding economic sanctions against Iran can be found at OFACs website.

While the decision to grant this general license may appear on the surface to run counter to recent OFAC sanctions, (more information on these restrictions can be read on our prior report here), two points must be noted. First, the general license does not authorize the export of any equipment to the Iranian government or to any individual or entity on the Specifically Designated Nationals (“SDN”) list. Second, general licenses permitting the sale and export of telecommunications equipment and technology currently exist in other OFAC administered sanctions regimes.

For example, similar general licenses exist within the Cuban Sanctions program. 31 C.F.R. § 515.542(b) provides that U.S. telecommunications services providers are authorized to engage in all transactions incident to the provision of telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba, the provision of satellite radio or satellite television services to Cuba, and the provision of roaming services involving telecommunications services providers in Cuba. In addition, section 515.542(c) authorizes persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to contract with and pay non-Cuban telecommunications services providers for services provided to particular individuals in Cuba (other than certain prohibited Cubans). More information on the Cuba Sanctions regime can be found on OFAC’s website here.

Similar general licenses also exist under the Syrian Sanctions program. Pursuant to General License No 5, U.S. persons, wherever located, may export to persons in Syria services incident to the exchange of personal communications over the Internet, such as instant messaging, chat and email, social networking, and blogging, provided that such services are publicly available at no cost to the user.

The purpose of such general licenses is to help facilitate the free flow of information between persons located within countries subject to U.S. Sanctions and the outside world. As explained by the Treasury Department in its press release announcing the new general license:

The United States is taking a number of coordinated actions today that target persons contributing to human rights abuses in Iran and enhance the ability of the Iranian people to access communication technology. As the Iranian government attempts to silence its people by cutting off their communication with each other and the rest of the world, the United States will continue to take action to help the Iranian people exercise their universal human rights, including the right to freedom of expression.

The people of Iran should be able to communicate and access information without being subject to reprisals by their government. To help facilitate the free flow of information in Iran and with Iranians, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the U.S. Department of State, is issuing a General License today authorizing the exportation to Iran of certain services, software, and hardware incident to personal communications. This license allows U.S. persons to provide the Iranian people with safer, more sophisticated personal communications equipment to communicate with each other and with the outside world. This General License aims to empower the Iranian people as their government intensifies its efforts to stifle their access to information.

A copy of Treasury Department’s press release can be read here.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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