US allows tech companies to increase internet access in Iran

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WASHINGTON (TUSEN) — The Treasury Department said Friday it is allowing US tech companies to expand their operations in Iran, one of the most sanctioned countries in the world, to increase Internet access for the Iranian people.

The Iranian government has cut off most of the internet access to its 80 million citizens during a crackdown on protesters protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s vice squad.

Morality police arrested Amini last week, saying she did not 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.

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At least nine protesters have been killed in clashes with Iranian security forces since the violence broke out this weekend. US sanctions were imposed on the morality police and leaders of law enforcement agencies on Thursday.

The Treasury Department said an updated general license issued Friday will empower tech companies to offer more social media and collaboration platforms, video conferencing and cloud-based services. The updated license also removes the requirement for communications to be “personal,” which Treasury says burdened companies with the need to verify the purpose of the communications.

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“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,” Deputy Finance Minister Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.

“With these changes, we help the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to control and censor them.”

In 2014, the Treasury sanctions arm issued a license permitting the export of software and services to Iran, which would allow the free exchange of communications over the Internet, with the intent of facilitating the free flow of information to Iranian citizens.

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Despite the fee, companies have been reluctant to do business in Iran for fear of violating existing sanctions and other laws imposing sanctions.

On Monday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that his satellite internet company Starlink would request permission to operate in Iran. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said it is up to the Treasury Department to decide Starlink’s next steps.

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