This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The U.S. announced on September 23 that it was easing export restrictions on Iran to expand access to Internet services which have been severely curbed by the government amid protests over the death of a woman following her arrest by the morality police.
The Treasury said in a statement that it was seeking to increase support for Internet freedom in Iran through updating a general license allowing access to certain services, software, and hardware after the government on September 21 restricted the Internet severely after days of unrest sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being detained for allegedly violating the strictly enforced dress code regarding the hijab.
“While Iran’s government is cutting off its people’s access to the global internet, the United States is taking action to support the free flow of information and access to fact-based information to the Iranian people,” the statement said.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo added: “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…With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to surveil and censor them.”
Adeyemo said that Washington would continue to issue guidance on the matter in the coming weeks.
The new license includes social media platforms and video conferencing. It also expands access to cloud-based services used to deliver virtual private networks (VPNs), which provide users with anonymity online, and other anti-surveillance tools, according to a Treasury official, who briefed reporters on the license on condition of anonymity.
The license also continues to authorize antivirus, anti-malware and anti-tracking software, the Treasury said, and removes a previous condition that communications be “personal” to ease compliance for companies.
Asked how the expanded license would help Iranians if their government again shuts down Internet access, a State Department official also briefing reporters said Iran’s government would still have “repressive tools for communication.”
Netblocks, a London-based Internet observatory group, said on September 21 that Iran is now subject to the most severe Internet restrictions since violent protests in November 2019 over a sudden rise in the price of gasoline.
The Iranian government claims Amini died after suffering a heart attack but her supporters and family dispute that, saying she was beaten while being apprehended.