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US Loosens Export Restrictions on Internet Services to 'Closed Societies'


A social networking site

A social networking site

The U.S. Treasury Department has announced it will issue licenses to companies that export instant messaging and other personal Internet services to Iran, Sudan and Cuba. The move follows comments made earlier this year by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that Internet freedom is now a fundamental principle of American foreign policy.

Can a cell phone or computer bring down a regime? It's a question tech watchers pose following the success of anti-government protesters in getting their message out last June following Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election.

Many Iranian youth captured video with their cell phones and used social networking sites to organize. "This is a world of 'communications.' It is no longer possible to conceal the truth. It's not that easy to lie and to play around with the polls," said one Iranian.

Reports by citizen journalists gained international attention after the Iranian government blocked foreign reporters from covering anti-government rallies. .

"The role of digital media has revolutionized really the way demonstrations have been reported and for that reason it has been playing a very, very important role," said Baqer Moin, a prominent Iranian blogger in London.

The U.S. administration has taken notice. On Monday, the Treasury Department announced it will grant licenses to Internet companies to export Facebook, Twitter and other personal Internet services to Cuba, Sudan and Iran. That runs counter to strict sanctions still in place covering other trade with these nations.

"In the 21st century, expression and assembly are carried out on the Internet so we are going to continue to support those people who wish to circumvent and be able to communicate without being blocked by their own government," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her comments this week follow those she made in January, when she said Internet freedom has become a fundamental principle of American foreign policy. Obviously, so-called "closed societies" can slow and block Internet service. But tech-saavy onlookers say not for long.

"It's too late now, the people have got used to this technology, businesses, finance, and industry are using this technology and you just can't push it back anymore," said Potkin Azarmehr of Azarmehr.Blogspot.com

"When a repression takes place in one area, the Internet will kind of skirt around that There is no central Internet motherlode. It was designed to withstand nuclear invasion," said Diane Martin, George Washington University.

The lifting of Internet restrictions follows calls in Congress for easier export of social networking services.

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