Lawmakers urge tech CEOs to do more to help Iranian protesters

A bipartisan group of 13 lawmakers has urged several US tech CEOs to do more to help Iranians stay connected to the internet as their government seeks to censor communications amid ongoing protests.

The Iranian regime has taken aggressive steps to block citizens from the internet and anti-government messages as people across the country continue to protest its restrictive standards. The protests began after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in the custody of Iran’s so-called morality police, who accused her of improperly wearing her hijab, an Islamic head covering. for women.

In the letter to the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft and cloud services DigitalOcean, lawmakers have asked leaders to be “more proactive” in providing important services to Iran. The Treasury Department last month issued guidance on US sanctions on Iran to clarify that social media platforms, video conferencing and cloud-based services that provide virtual private networks can operate in Iran.

“While we appreciate some of the actions your companies have taken, we believe your companies can be more proactive in acting within the broad authorization provided in GLD-2,” the lawmakers wrote, referring to the general license used. to issue guidelines on sanctions.

They specifically pointed to four different types of tools they would like to see companies put in the hands of the Iranian people: cloud and hosting services, messaging and communication tools, development and analytics tools, and access to application stores.

Lawmakers said these kinds of tools would help Iranian citizens stay securely connected to the internet amid government-mandated shutdowns and reduce their reliance on national infrastructure. The availability of multiple secure communication tools would make it harder for the Iranian regime to shut them all down at once, they wrote.

The lawmakers also said giving the Iranian people access to developer tools and app stores would allow them to “create and strengthen” their own communications apps and security tools and give them a place to distribute them free of charge. government oversight.

Representatives Tom Malinowski, DN.J., Claudia Tenney, RN.Y., and Sens. Bob Menendez, DN.J. and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., took the lead.

“Iranians fearlessly risk their lives for their basic rights and dignity,” they wrote. “Your tools and services can be vital in their efforts to pursue these aspirations, and the United States should continue to do everything possible to help them.”

A Google spokesperson said in a statement that the company is working on ways to “ensure continued access to generally available communication tools like Google Meet and our other internet services.” Google launched location sharing in Iran on Google Maps in September to allow people to let loved ones know where they are, and Google’s Jigsaw team is working to make its tool more widely available so users in Iran can run their own VPNs that are resistant to blocking, the spokesperson added.

Meta did not provide comment. The Facebook owner had made Instagram and WhatsApp available in Iran, but the services were restricted by the government.

The other companies named in the letter did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.

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