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December 16, 2009 

State Department Recommends that OFAC Issue General License Authorizing Personal Communications to be Exported to Iran

Yesterday the State Department submitted a notification to Congress pursuant to the Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act of 1992 indicating that it is recommending that the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issue a general license that would authorize downloads of free mass market software to Iran for personal communications and/or sharing of information over the Internet, such as instant messaging, chat and e-mail and social networking.

The notification indicated that U.S. sanctions are having "an unintended chilling effect on the ability of companies . . to provide essential communications tools to ordinary Iranians."  It also indicated the general license "would be comparable to exemptions which already exist for the exchange of direct mails and phone calls." Any general license would exclude the direct or indirect exportation of services or software where there is knowledge or reason to know that it is intended for the Government of Iran.

The general license that will be issued by OFAC will be the third general license issued by OFAC under the Iranian Transactions Regulations, the regulations that govern U.S. sanctions on Iran. Unlike a specific license which is issued on a case-by-case to authorize a specific transaction, a general license authorizes the performance of certain categories of transactions without having to submit a license application to OFAC.

Once OFAC issues the general license, which will should occur early next year, it should negate the need for Congress to enact the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act ("IDEA Act") (H.R.4301) that was introduced earlier this week.

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