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U.S. expands sanctions exceptions to help provide internet to Iranians

·2 min read

NEW YORK, Sept 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday issued guidance expanding the range of internet services available to Iranians despite U.S. sanctions on the country, amid protests around Iran following the death of a 22-year-old woman in custody.

The Treasury in a statement said it was seeking to increase support for internet freedom in Iran through updating the license after the government on Wednesday cut off access to the internet for most of its citizens.

“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,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said.

"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 that Washington in coming weeks would continue to issue guidance.

Public outrage in Iran over Mahsa Amini's death last week showed no sign of abating after days of protests in Tehran and other cities, with protesters torching police stations and vehicles earlier on Thursday and reports of security forces coming under attack.

Amini, a Kurdish woman, was arrested by the morality police in Tehran for wearing "unsuitable attire" and fell into a coma while in detention. The authorities have said they would investigate the cause of her death.

Internet monitoring group Netblocks on Thursday said a new mobile internet disruption has been registered in Iran, where access to social media and some content is tightly restricted. NetBlocks reported "near-total" disruption to internet connectivity in the capital of the Kurdish region on Monday, linking it to the protests.

Washington has long provided some internet-related exceptions to its sanctions on Iran, but Friday's update to the general license seeks to modernize them, the Treasury said.

It includes social media platforms and video conferencing in its covered categories of software and services and gives additional authorizations for services that support communication tools to assist ordinary Iranians in "resisting repressive internet censorship and surveillance tools deployed by the Iranian regime."

The license also continues to authorize anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-tracking software, the Treasury said, and removes a previous condition that communications be "personal" to ease compliance for companies. (Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Editing by William Maclean)