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US gives lift to protesters in Iran and eases internet restrictions

The US is easing restrictions on internet services to Iran as protests storm the country, widening access to social media and other tools.

The Treasury Department is easing restrictions on internet services to Iran as protests storm the country, widening access to social media and other tools in a move officials say aims to increase the flow of information for ordinary people.

The guidelines released Friday expand the list of services US companies can provide in Iran, despite broad sanctions banning most foreign affairs. The guidelines were released a week after demonstrations began over the fate of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after being arrested for allegedly violating Islamic dress codes.

Iran cut internet access to 80 million people on Wednesday. Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, had drawn attention to the drama earlier in the week when he raised the possibility that his satellite internet service Starlink would seek an exemption to operate in Iran.

The Treasury Department says that satellite internet services such as Starlink are allowed, but some types of equipment, including certain types of satellite receivers, still require a specific license before they can be exported to Iran.

“We took action today to promote internet freedom and the free flow of information for the Iranian people by issuing a general license to give them greater access to digital communications to counter the Iranian government’s censorship,” he said. Foreign Minister Antony Blinken in a tweet.

In a Twitter response to Blinken’s comment, Musk wrote: “Activating Starlink…”

Musk should get Starlink exemption for Iran, lawmakers say (1)

It was not clear whether Starlink had actually applied for a license, and the company did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday. In a briefing with reporters on Friday, a Treasury Department official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Starlink was welcome to apply for an exemption.

The Treasury Department adds social media, video conferencing and cloud-based computing to the list of approved activities and removes the requirement that communications must be “personal.” That condition made it too difficult for companies to verify the purpose of communication. It also adds online maps, machine translation, web maps and user authentication services to the list.

The department is also expanding its licensing policy on a case-by-case basis, which it says aims to enable Iranian developers to create the anti-surveillance and anti-censorship apps used by many people there to bypass government controls on the Internet. . The new guidelines are included in General License D-2.

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