US will help Iranians bypass online censorship during anti-regime protests: Elon Musk’s role

FILE PHOTO: A computer engineer checks equipment at an Internet service provider in Tehran (REUTERS/Caren Firouz) (Caren Firouz/)

The US Treasury Department issued on Friday a guide to expanding the range of internet services available to iranians despite US sanctions on the country, amid protests across Iran following the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody.

Authorities said that the move would help Iranians access tools that can be used to circumvent state surveillance and censorshipBut it would not entirely prevent Tehran from using communication tools to quell dissent, as it did by cutting off internet access for most citizens on Wednesday.

American tech firms they will be able to expand their business in Iran, where most internet access has been cut off in response to anti-government protests.

On Monday, the CEO of Tesla, 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 Starlink’s next steps. And this Friday, Musk tweeted: “Activating Starlink”.

star link
Musk’s tweet

Iran has been cracking down on demonstrators protesting the death of Mahsa Amini, 22 years old, in the custody of his moral police. Iranian state television suggests that as many as 26 protesters and policemen have been killed since the violence broke out over the weekend.

Secretary of State, Anthony BlinkenHe said the move will help counter government surveillance efforts.

It is clear that the Iranian government is afraid of its own people,” Blinken said in an emailed statement. “Mahsa Amini is senseless, tragically dead, and now the government is violently cracking down on peaceful protesters, rightly angry at the loss of her.”

Moral police arrested Amini last week, saying she was not properly covering her hair with the Islamic veil, known as a hijab. Amini collapsed at a police station and died three days later.

US sanctions were imposed on the morality police and the leaders of other law enforcement agencies on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO.  An undated image obtained from social media shows Mahsa Amini (IranWire/via REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO. An undated image obtained from social media shows Mahsa Amini (IranWire/via REUTERS) (IRANWIRE/)

The Treasury Department said that An updated general license issued on Friday authorizes technology companies to offer more social networking and collaboration platforms, video conferencing and cloud-based services.

The updated license also removes condition that communications be “personal”which according to the Treasury burdened companies with the need to verify the purpose of the communications.

“As brave Iranians take to the streets to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, the United States is redoubling our support for the free flow of information to the Iranian people,” Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.

“With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter government efforts to monitor and censor them.”

The United Nations has called for an investigation into Amini’s death.

FILE PHOTO.  People attend a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini (West Asia News Agency via REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO. People attend a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini (West Asia News Agency via REUTERS) (WANA NEWS AGENCY/)

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

“It is also going to provide Iranians with safety and security,” he said. “When you can have your data outside the country, the Iranian security services cannot illegally access your data because your data is protected by international law outside of Iran.”

In 2014, Treasury’s sanctions arm issued a license authorizing exports of software and services to Iran that would allow the free exchange of communications over the Internet, intended to encourage the free flow of information to Iranian citizens.

Still, US companies have been reluctant to do business in Iran for fear of violating existing sanctions and other laws that impose sanctions.

In a Friday call with reporters, Treasury and State Department officials said the move, along with a recent increase in sanctions, does not affect the administration’s plans to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal.

(With information from Reuters and AP)

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The young Iranian woman who had been arrested by the moral police of the theocratic regime for not wearing a veil as required died