Lawmakers urge tech CEOs to do more to help Iranian protesters circumvent internet censorship
Iranians protest to demand justice and highlight the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by morality police and subsequently died in hospital in Tehran under suspicious circumstances.
Mike Kemp | In Pictures via Getty Images
A bipartisan group of 13 lawmakers urged several U.S. tech CEOs to do more to help Iranian people stay connected to the internet as their government seeks to censor communications amid ongoing protests.
The Iranian regime has taken aggressive measures 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 had 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 service DigitalOcean, the lawmakers asked the executives to be “more proactive” in getting important services to Iran. The Treasury Department last month issued guidance on U.S. sanctions on Iran to make clear that social media platforms, video conferencing and cloud-based services that deliver virtual private networks can operate in Iran.
“While we appreciate some of the steps your companies have taken, we believe your companies can be more proactive in acting pursuant to the broad authorization provided in GLD-2,” the lawmakers wrote, referencing the general license used to issue sanctions guidance.
They specifically pointed to four different types of tools they’d like to see the companies work to get into the hands of the Iranian people: cloud and hosting services, messaging and communication tools, developer and analytics tools and access to app stores.
The lawmakers said these types of tools would help Iranian citizens stay connected to the internet in secure ways amid government-imposed shutdowns and reduce their reliance on domestic infrastructure. The availability of multiple secure communications tools would make it harder for the Iranian regime to shut down all of them at once, they wrote.
The lawmakers also said that giving the Iranian people access to developer tools and app stores would allow them to “create and harden” their own communications apps and security tools and give them a place to distribute them without government surveillance.
Reps. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., and Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., took the lead in the letter.
“Iranians are fearlessly risking their lives for their fundamental rights and dignity,” they wrote. “Your tools and services may be vital in their efforts to pursue these aspirations, and the United States should continue to make every effort to assist them.”
A Google spokesperson said in a statement the company is working on ways to “ensure continued access to generally available communications tools like Google Meet and our other Internet services.” Google launched location sharing in Iran on Google Maps in September to let people let loved ones know where they are and the Jigsaw team within Google is working to make its tool more widely available so users in Iran can run their own VPNs that resist blocking, the spokesperson added.
Meta did not provide a comment. The Facebook-owner had made Instagram and WhatsApp available in Iran, but the services have been restricted by the government.
The other companies named in the letter did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.