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US allows tech firms to boost internet access in Iran
AP Sep 23, 2022 8 days ago
FILE - In this photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, protesters chant slogans during a protest over the death of a woman who was detained by the morality police, in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sept. 21, 2022. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - Exile Iranians of the National Council of Resistance of Iran gather in front of the embassy of Iran in Berlin, Germany, Sept. 20, 2022 after the death of an Iranian woman held by the country's morality police. The U.S. government has imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police after the death in custody of a woman who'd been accused of wearing her Islamic headgear too loosely. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — American tech firms will be allowed to expand their business in Iran, where most internet access has been cut off in response to anti-government protests, the Treasury Department said Friday.
Iran has been cracking down on demonstrators protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of its morality police. Iranian state TV suggests that as many as 26 protesters and police have been killed since violence erupted over the weekend.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the move will help counter the government's surveillance efforts.
“It is clear that the Iranian government is afraid of its own people,” Blinken said in an emailed statement. “Mahsa Amini is senselessly, tragically dead, and now the government is violently suppressing peaceful protesters rightly angry about her loss.”
The Treasury Department said an updated general license issued Friday authorizes tech firms to offer more social media and collaboration platforms, video conferencing and cloud-based services.
The updated license also removes the condition that communications be “personal,” which Treasury said was burdening companies with the need to verify the purpose of the communications.
“As courageous Iranians take to the streets to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, the United States is redoubling its support for the free flow of information to the Iranian people,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.
“With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to surveil and censor them.”
Amir Rashidi, an exiled Iranian who is director of internet security and digital rights at Miaan Group, said lifting restrictions will help Iranians bypass censorship.
“Also it’s going to provide Iranians with safety and security,” he said. “When you can have your data outside the country Iranian security services cannot unlawfully access your data because your data is protected by international law outside Iran.”
In 2014, Treasury’s sanctions arm issued a license authorizing exports of software and services to Iran that would allow the free exchange of communication over the internet, with the intent to foster the free flow of information to Iranian citizens.
Even so, U.S. firms have been reluctant to do business in Iran, due to fears of violating existing sanctions and other laws that impose penalties.