Sep 23, 2022 - World

U.S. expands internet access in Iran as government cracks down on protests

Demonstrators around a fire in Tehran on Sept. 21.

Demonstrators around a fire in Tehran on Sept. 21. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Treasury on Friday announced it would allow tech companies to expand internet access in Iran in the wake of a government crackdown on protests and internet availability.

Why it matters: Iran's restrictions could prevent Iranians who are protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was in police custody from disseminating footage of authorities committing acts of violence.

  • The restrictions targeted communications and social media platforms like Whatsapp and Instagram and internet service in parts of Iran's Kurdistan province, according to NetBlocks, a London-based watchdog that monitors internet access worldwide.
  • The modifications could give political dissidents in the country tools to circumvent the Iranian government's surveillance and censorship efforts and brings "U.S. sanctions guidance in line with the changes in modern technology," the Treasury said.

Driving the news: Protests erupted in dozens of cities across Iran earlier this week in response to Amini's death. She was arrested by Iran's morality police for allegedly violating a religious law requiring women to wear a headscarf, Axios' Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath reports.

  • Police claimed Amini was not mistreated and that she died of a heart attack. Her father, Amjad Amini, told BBC Persia that she had no preexisting conditions and was only allowed to view part of her body after her death.

What they're saying: "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," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on social media Friday.

  • “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,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo.
  • "With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to surveil and censor them," Adeyemo added.

The big picture: The changes allow technology companies to offer people in the country more secure internet platforms and services options "to protect the ability of Iranians to engage in free expression and bravely resist regime oppression," the department said.

  • The new platform and services exempted from sanctions include social media platforms and video conferencing software and services.
  • The Treasury announced new sanctions on Iran's morality police and senior leaders of Iran's security organizations that the U.S. said routinely use violence to suppress peaceful protesters and other civil society groups.

Go deeper: Internet restricted in Iran as anti-government protests intensify

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