Briefing with Senior Administration Officials on Administration’s Efforts to Advance Free Flow of Information For Iranian People

Department of State

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining today’s call. We have with us [Senior State Department Official] and [Senior Treasury Department Official]. They will discuss today’s release of General License D-2 authorizing the export of certain services, software, and hardware related to communications to Iran. They will speak today on background and you may refer to them as a senior State Department official and a senior Treasury Department official, respectively, for the purposes of your reporting.

As a reminder, this call is embargoed until the conclusion of the call and audio from this session is not for broadcast or replay. I will now turn the floor over to [Senior State Department Official] followed then by [Senior Treasury Department Official] and then I will call on you for questions. Thank you. Over to [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. Hi, everybody. This is [Senior State Department Official]. Mahsa Amini is senselessly and tragically dead, and now the Government of Iran, rather than responding to the peaceful protesters rightly angry about her loss by addressing the fundamental problems that led to it, is simply violently suppressing protests. And as part of that, on Wednesday, the Iranian Government cut off access to the internet for most of its 80 million citizens to prevent them and the rest of the world from watching its violent crackdown.

While Iran’s government is cutting off people’s access to the global internet and to each other, today the United States is taking action to support the free flow of information to and among the Iranian people. Over the past few years, the U.S. has engaged intently with major U.S. technology companies to understand the issues they face in providing access to personal communication tools for the people in Iran. I think we all know how quickly technology moves, and as hard as it is for each of us individually to keep up with it, imagine how difficult it is from the regulatory perspective to keep up with those changes and make sure that our policy objectives are met by the framework that we put in place.

So as a result of the coordination over the course of that last year, year and a half, today the Department of Treasury has issued General License D-2, updating its guidance to expand the range of internet services available to Iranians. The updated general license dramatically increases support for internet freedom in Iran by bringing U.S. sanctions guidance into line with changes in modern technology. The updated guidance will authorize technology companies to offer the Iranian people more options for secure, private, outside platform and services. With these changes, the Iranian people will be better equipped to counter the Iranian Government’s efforts to surveil and censor them.

Before I turn it over to my friend [Senior Treasury Department Official], I just want to say how incredibly grateful all of us are at the State Department for the work that the Treasury Department has done not only over the last year and a half but over the last week in order to be able to respond, I think profoundly and in real time, to the crisis that we’re seeing in Iran with something that I think can make a meaningful difference in the Iranian people’s ability to communicate with the outside world and with each other. And so with that, over to [Senior Treasury Department Official] in Treasury.

SENIOR TREASURY DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: [Senior State Department Official], thanks so much and thanks for the kind words, and this is only possible today with the intense collaboration with our State Department colleagues. Good afternoon, everyone. My name is [Senior Treasury Department Official] from the Office of Foreign Assets Control at U.S. Treasury.

The U.S. Government is committed to ensuring that the Iranian people can exercise their universal right to freedom of expression and to freely access information via the internet. So in furtherance of this commitment to promote the free flow of information to the citizens of Iran, which the Iranian Government has consistently denied to its people, OFAC issued today Iran General License D-2, which expands the scope of authorized exports to Iran of software and services incident to the exchange of communication over the internet.

The expanded authorization will allow U.S. companies to provide tools to the – to ordinary Iranians and assist in their efforts to resist repressive internet censorship and surveillance tools deployed by the Iranian Government, especially amidst the recent public protests and internet outages following the death of Mahsa Amini. In addition to promoting the free flow of information to the Iranian people, General License D-2 includes important updates to reflect the technological developments of communications software and related services in recent years and it clarifies that products and services – those products and services that are authorized for exportation or re-exportation to Iran.

General licenses are self-executing, which means that anyone who meets the criteria outlined in this general license can proceed with their activities without notifying or requesting additional permission from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. For any activity not covered by General License D-2, OFAC welcomes and we will prioritize applications for specific licenses to authorize activities supporting internet freedom in Iran. Specific licenses are individualized and are not public.

In the coming weeks we will endeavor to issue additional guidance that will help businesses and NGOs take advantage of the new authorizations in General License D-2. Until then, we appreciate your understanding if we cannot answer every technical question that you may have today.

The U.S. Government will continue to identify those opportunities to support the Iranian people’s right and ability to communicate freely and without fear of government reprisals.

With that, I’ll turn it back over to our State Department colleagues. Over to you, [Moderator].

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Operator, would you please mind repeating the instructions for joining the queue to pose a question?

OPERATOR: Absolutely. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad.

MODERATOR: Excellent. Thank you so much. Could we please go to the line of Simon Lewis from Reuters?

OPERATOR: Simon’s line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. Thanks for doing this. So I wonder if I could ask the officials to try to spell out a little bit more the real world sort of consequences of this. Just to go back to, I guess, context, the – there was this announcement by Starlink that they were going to apply for a license, but the response from Treasury seemed to be that for something like Starlink they wouldn’t actually need – the exception already applied, or it wasn’t actually required. So this – I assume this isn’t addressing Starlink directly, and you’re talking about allowing companies to provide secure, private platforms and services.

But if the Iranian regime is actually cutting off the internet, does this – will this help people to get access to the global internet rather than – we’re talking about sort of social media companies and platforms and video messaging sites, those kind of things. You obviously can’t access those without basic internet connections. So, could you sort of spell out for me how exactly today’s action makes it easier for Iranians to get online, to literally get online if the internet is being blocked? I hope that makes sense. Thank you.

SENIOR TREASURY DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great. Well, I’m happy – this is [Senior Treasury Department Official], and happy to start. Sort of from the outset, if you think about what General License D-2 expands, it’s really three – I would say three things are expanded upon in General License D-2. First, is that the communication tool available under D-1 were down-level. And so what D-2 does is it updates and expands those authorized communication tools to sort of match modern times. So, everything from social media platforms, collaboration platforms, conferencing, e-gaming, other tools that maybe were not exclusively what was before a requirement for personal communication, things like mapping tools and others. So – and most importantly what it does is it expands the access of cloud-based services.

Why is this key? It’s because today so many VPNs and other sort of anti-surveillance tools are delivered via cloud. And so it was important that this authorization expand the cloud-based services, and also that we give guidance to those cloud service providers, so that they understand that their due diligence obligations really are manageable. And so we provided that today.

The other expansions in this general license is that – and I mentioned it briefly before – is that it removes this limitation that the authorized services be connected to personal communication. So that was the feedback we got from many technology companies, that that limitation and ambiguity in the regulations was really a sticking point for them. So, we’ve removed that limitation that it be tied to personal communication.

Last but not least – and this circles back to your question in part on Starlink – we expanded within this general license our licensing policy for specific licenses. So, remember a general license, self-executing; specific license, these are privately given for activity that may be outside General License D-2. We expanded that policy today, which is quite forward-leaning and a policy supportive of these applications, especially the anti-surveillance and other type of activity that it – to the extent it’s not covered by General License D-2. So, we welcome these license applications. OFAC will expedite them working with our State Department colleagues for the foreign policy guidance to issue those, so we would just welcome Starlink and others to apply.

The question probably is, folded into your original question, whether or not Starlink would necessarily – what it seeks to do – fall within the scope of this general license – or they would need to come in. Our understanding of Starlink is that what they provide would be commercial grade, and it would be hardware that’s not covered in the general license; so that would be something they would need to write into Treasury for.

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