The US has issued a general licence to give Iranians greater access to digital communications and counter the government’s censorship.
In a counter to the internet crackdown in Iran, the US has allowed its tech firms to expand the range of internet services available to Iranians despite US sanctions on the country.
Various internet services have reportedly been cut off in Iran as protestors took to the streets over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
Amini was arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly and died while in morality police custody, sparking anti-government protests over the past week.
The US government imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police and leaders of other government agencies in response to Amini’s death, AP reported.
But US secretary of state Antony Blinken said a general licence was issued on Friday (23 September) to “advance internet freedom and the free flow of information for the Iranian people”.
Blinken said on Twitter that the move is a “counter” to the Iranian government’s censorship and would give people in the country greater access to digital communications.
We took action today to advance Internet freedom and the free flow of information for the Iranian people, issuing a General License to provide them greater access to digital communications to counter the Iranian government’s censorship.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) September 23, 2022
The US has placed various restrictions on activities with Iran since 1979, when the US embassy in Tehran was seized.
In 2014, the US Treasury issued a licence to help provide a free flow of information to Iranian citizens. However, US firms have reportedly been reluctant to do business in Iran over concerns of violating other sanctions.
In a statement on Friday, the US Treasury Department said the new licence is designed to bring US sanctions guidance “in line with the changes in modern technology” since the 2014 licence was issued.
The US Treasury also said Iran’s internet was cut off last week to prevent the world from seeing the violent crackdown on the protests, while citizens have faced censorship and surveillance.
Internet monitoring group NetBlocks tweeted last week that Instagram and WhatsApp have been restricted in Iran, while mobile networks were “largely shut down”.
Encrypted messaging app Signal said its services have been blocked in the country. The app called for support from its community on Twitter and said they can help Iranians reconnect by hosting proxy servers.
A request to our community: Signal is blocked in Iran. You can help people in Iran reconnect to Signal by hosting a proxy server. If you’re willing and able, please follow the instructions here: https://t.co/hznCI9EwCa 1/2 #IRanASignalProxy
— Signal (@signalapp) September 22, 2022
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responded to Blinken’s statement on Twitter, hinting that his company’s Starlink satellite internet system may be used to provide internet access to people in Iran.
However Oliver Linow, internet freedom specialist who works with Deutsche Welle, claimed Starlink may not be able to help the situation as Musk suggests.
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