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US Lets Tech Companies Increase Internet Access in Iran

Women protest in the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli over the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran September 26, 2022. (REUTERS/Orhan Qereman)
Women protest in the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli over the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran September 26, 2022. (REUTERS/Orhan Qereman)
US Lets Tech Companies Increase Internet Access in Iran
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The United States Treasury Department said last week it will permit American technology companies to expand their business in Iran. The goal is to increase internet access for the Iranian people.

The Iranian government cut most internet access for its 80 million citizens following protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Amini died while in the custody of Iran’s morality police.

Iranian state television suggests that as many as 26 protesters and police officers have been killed since violence broke out over the weekend.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the move will help fight back againt the Iranian government's surveillance efforts.

“It is clear that the Iranian government is afraid of its own people,” Blinken said in a statement. “Mahsa Amini is senselessly, tragically dead, and now the government is violently suppressing peaceful protesters rightly angry about her loss.”

The morality police arrested Amini last week. They said she did not correctly cover her hair with the Islamic headscarf, called the hijab. Amini collapsed at a police station and died three days later.

U.S. sanctions went into effect Thursday on the morality police and leaders of other law enforcement agencies.

The Treasury Department updated its general license Friday. The new license permits tech companies to offer more social media services, video meeting and cloud-based services.

The updated license also removes the requirement that communications be “personal.” The Treasury Department said that requirement was troubling companies with the need to prove the purpose of the communications.

The Iranian government said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to harm the Islamic Republic.

"Washington is always trying to weaken Iran's stability and security although it has been unsuccessful," said Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson during a television appearance.

Amir Rashidi is an exiled Iranian who is director of internet security and digital rights at Miaan Group. He said lifting restrictions will help Iranians avoid censorship laws.

“Also it’s going to provide Iranians with safety and security,” he said. “When you can have your data outside the country Iranian security services cannot unlawfully access your data because your data is protected by international law outside Iran.”

In 2014, the Treasury Department issued a license permitting exports of software and services to Iran that would permit the free exchange of communication and ideas over the internet. The hope was to spread information to Iranian citizens.

Even so, U.S. companies have been unwilling to do business in Iran because of fears of violating existing sanctions and other laws.

On Monday, Tesla head Elon Musk tweeted that his satellite internet company 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.

The White House said the move, along with a recent increase in sanctions, does not affect the administration's plans to reenter the Iran nuclear deal.

“We have concerns, we do, with Iran," said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. But the Iran deal "is the best way for us to address the nuclear problem.”

I’m Dan Novak.

Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press and Reuters.


Words in This Story

access — n. a way of getting near, at, or to something or someone

custody — n. the legal right to take care of a child

surveillance — n. the act of carefully watching someone or something especially in order to prevent or detect a crime

sanction — n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, etc.

license — n. an official document, card, etc., that gives you permission to do, use, or have something

censorship — n. the system or practice of censoring books, movies, letters, etc.

address — v. to give attention to