Arguing that access to the flow of information on the Internet in Iran and Cuba is in line with US interests, the US Treasury has asked Google and Microsoft to give users in those two countries access to their chat services. This is a smart move, but just the beginning of what should be done to increase the flow on online speech in those countries.
Ethan Zuckerman fist noticed a disturbing trend earlier this year when Internet companies such as Bluehost and others began to use sanctions against countries like Zimbabwe, Iran, Syria and Sudan as an excuse to cut off service entirely to users in those countries, even if the users were human rights groups fighting against the governments that are the real target of the sanctions. Not long after he observed the problem in Zimbabwe, Bluehost shut out users in Iran, including leading bloggers like Kamangir. It seems that most firms, large and small, just shut off access to most of their products that require a software download out of fear of running afoul of US sanctions. In their cost-benefit analysis, it is just easier to shut off access and not look at the impact of those decisions on activists in those countries.
However, it seems that Microsoft has continued to allow citizens in Iran, Cuba and other sanctioned countries to use its Hotmail e-mail and Live Spaces blog service, since they are hosted in the cloud. This is possibly another argument in favor of cloud computing, where services are increasingly migrating lately, although it depends on where those services are hosted.
This is a good first step, but there is still much the US can do to ease restrictions on Internet speech and access to software and services provided by US companies in countries where we have the strictest sanction regimes.