(Bloomberg) -- The Treasury Department is easing restrictions on internet services to Iran as protests roil the country, widening access to social media and other tools in a move that officials said is meant to increase the flow of information for ordinary people.
Guidance released Friday expands the list of services US companies can provide in Iran despite broad sanctions that prohibit most foreign business. The guidance was released a week after demonstrations began over the fate of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after she was arrested for allegedly flouting Islamic dress codes.
Iran cut off 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 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 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,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a tweet.
In a Twitter response to Blinken’s comment, Musk wrote: “Activating Starlink...”
Musk Should Get Starlink Waiver for Iran, Lawmakers Say (1)
It wasn’t clear whether Starlink had actually applied for a license and the company didn’t immediately return a request for comment on Friday. In a briefing with reporters on Friday, a Treasury Department official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Starlink was welcome to apply for an exemption.
The Treasury Department is adding social media, video-conferencing and cloud-based computing to its list of cleared activities and is removing a condition that communications be “personal.” That condition made it too hard for companies to verify the purpose of communications. It’s also adding online maps, automated translation, web maps and user authentication services to the list.
The department is also expanding its case-by-case licensing policy, which it says is meant to allow Iranian developers to create the anti-surveillance and anti-censorship apps used by many people there to circumvent government controls on the Internet. The new guidelines are contained in General License D-2.
(Updates with Elon Musk tweet about activating Starlink in 7th paragraph.)
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