The US Treasury Department issued guidelines Friday to expand the reach of internet services for Iranians, despite US sanctions against the country, amid protests surrounding Iran after the death of a 22-year-old woman in custody.
Officials said the move would help Iranians access tools that could be used to circumvent state surveillance and censorship, but would not completely prevent Tehran from using means of communication to suppress dissent, as it did by restricting internet access for most citizens. to close on Wednesday.
“As courageous Iranians take to the streets to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, the United States is redoubled its support for the free flow of information to the Iranian people,” said US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo.
“With these changes, we will help the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s attempts to control and censor them.”
Adeyemo added that Washington would continue to provide guidance in the coming weeks.
Public outcry in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini last week showed no signs of abating after days of protests in Tehran and other cities, with protesters setting fire to police stations and vehicles earlier on Thursday and reporting security forces being attacked.
Amini, a Kurdish woman, was arrested by the vice squad in Tehran for wearing “inappropriate clothing” and fell into a coma while incarcerated. Authorities have said they will investigate the cause of her death.
Internet monitoring group NetBlocks said on Thursday that a new disruption to mobile internet has been registered in Iran, where access to social media and some content is severely restricted. NetBlocks on Monday reported an “almost total” disruption to internet connectivity in the capital of the Kurdish region, linking it to the protests.
Washington has long made some internet-related exceptions to its sanctions against Iran, but Friday’s update of the general license aims to modernize them, the Treasury said.
The new license includes social media platforms and video conferencing, and expands access to cloud-based services used to deliver virtual private networks (VPNs), which provide users with online anonymity, and other anti-surveillance tools, according to a Department of State official. Finance that informed reporters. on the license on condition of anonymity.
The license also continues to authorize antivirus, antimalware and anti-tracking software, the Treasury said, removing a previous requirement that communications must be “personal” to facilitate compliance for businesses.
When asked how the extended license would help Iranians if their government shuts down internet access again, a foreign ministry official who also informed reporters said the Iranian government would still have “repressive tools for communication.”
The new permit makes it “easier for the Iranian people to confront some of those oppressive instruments,” the official said. “It doesn’t mean they don’t exist anymore.”
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responded Friday to a tweet from Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the new license with the comment “Activate Starlink,” a reference to the company’s satellite broadband service — which has already been delivered to Ukraine for its fight against the Russian invasion. .
Musk said Monday that his company would supply Starlink to Iranians and ask for an exemption from sanctions to do so.
The Treasury Department’s official briefing reporters said Starlink’s commercial system, which would send hardware to Iran, would not be covered by the general license.
“That would be something they should write for in the Treasury,” the official said.