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U.S. lets tech firms boost internet access in Iran following a crackdown on protesters

Protesters gather in front of the embassy of Iran in Berlin, on Tuesday after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's morality police.
Michael Sohn
/
AP
Protesters gather in front of the embassy of Iran in Berlin, on Tuesday after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's morality police.

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department said Friday it was allowing American tech firms to expand their business in Iran, one of the most sanctioned countries in the world, to boost internet access for the Iranian people.

The Iranian government cut most internet access for its 80 million citizens during a crackdown on demonstrators protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's morality police.

The morality police detained Amini last week, saying she didn't properly cover her hair with the Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women. Amini collapsed at a police station and died three days later.

At least nine protesters have been killed in clashes with Iranian security forces since violence erupted over the weekend. U.S. sanctions were imposed Thursday on the morality police and leaders of law enforcement agencies.

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."

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.

Despite the allowance, firms have been reluctant to do business in Iran, due to fears of violating existing sanctions and other laws that impose penalties.

On Monday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that his satellite internet firm Starlink would seek permission to operate in Iran. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said it was up to Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control to decide on Starlink's next steps.

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The Associated Press