US Treasury Department Moves To Protect Internet Access For Iranian Citizens

from the pitching-in-to-help-the-oppressed dept

Information wants to be free and it is never freer than when it traverses the internet. That’s why so many autocratic leaders strive to shut down this essential connection. It allows governments to control narrative and control citizens. Limiting their communication options means it will be the government’s view that prevails.

Iran’s government has been headed up by a single Supreme Leader since 1989, an office put into place by the rightfully reviled Ayatollah Khomeini. The head of the Islamic state controls pretty much the entire government, making the position of president pretty much irrelevant. The Supreme Leader is considered to be above reproach. Those that do reproach find themselves punished severely. To maintain this illusion of godlike powers, Iran’s government has routinely interfered with internet use by its citizens.

Efforts have ranged from the moderately annoying to efforts approaching super-villainy. In 2011, Iran announced its plan to build its own internet, solely for the purpose of curtailing criticism of the government and silencing dissent. More bizarrely, the figurehead of the Iranian government’s official religion issued a fatwa against “immoral” high-speed internet connections, under the theory that swift connection speeds somehow violated the country’s “moral standards.”

The efforts to isolate Iranian citizens from the rest of the world continue. As of 2019, the government was still pursuing plans to create an Iran-only internet, something that has been in the works since 2005. Logistical hurdles make this more theoretical than practical, but in lieu of cutting off Iran from the rest of the world, the government has ramped up its persecution of dissent and criticism. Using none other than one of former president Donald Trump’s favorite terms, the government banned “fake news,” granting more power to already very powerful internet regulators.

Decades of internet-based suppression are finally being addressed by the US government. Following the shutdown of the internet in parts of the country in response to protests provoked by the death of a woman in police custody, the US Treasury Department is expanding its protection of essential online services.

Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued Iran General License (GL) D-2 to increase support for internet freedom in Iran by bringing U.S. sanctions guidance in line with the changes in modern technology since the issuance of Iran GL D-1. On Wednesday, the Iranian government cut off access to the Internet for most of its 80 million citizens to prevent the world from watching its violent crackdown on peaceful protestors sparked by the brutal death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s Morality Police. While Iran’s government is cutting off its people’s access to the global internet, the United States is taking action to support the free flow of information and access to fact-based information to the Iranian people. The updated guidance will authorize technology companies to offer the Iranian people more options of secure, outside platforms and services.

What this new license does is give tech companies around the world permission to develop products and expand their Iranian customer base without fear of being subjected to sanctions meant to punish the Iranian government. It also authorizes the Treasury Department to expand this license — on a case-by-case basis — to cover anti-surveillance and anti-censorship software created by Iranian developers, exempting them from sanctions targeting surveillance/censorship tech developed by the Iranian government.

Hopefully, this will quickly provide more options for Iranian citizens, allowing them to skirt domestic censorship by a government that long ago stopped serving the interests of its citizens.

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