The U.S. Treasury Department said Friday that it was updating guidance to U.S. tech firms to expand the range of internet services available to Iranians, countering a move by Iran's government this week to block internet access to its citizens.
On Wednesday, as street protests continued in Iran, the Iranian government cut off internet access for most of its 83 million citizens, the Treasury Department said, to prevent the world from watching its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters.
People took to the streets this week to demonstrate following the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who died after being taken into custody by the morality police for improperly wearing her headscarf. Iran security forces have responded by violently cracking down on the protests, leading to at least nine deaths so far. According to The Associated Press, Iranian state TV suggested the death toll could be as high as 26.
In a statement, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said the changes issued Friday through the department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) will call on U.S.-based tech companies to provide more digital services to people in Iran - from access to cloud computing services to better tools - to enhance their online security and privacy.
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. In the coming weeks, OFAC will continue issuing guidance to support the administration's commitment to promoting the free flow of information, which the Iranian regime has consistently denied to its people."
In his own statement Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the steps taken by the Treasury Department would help ensure "the Iranian people are not kept isolated and in the dark."
"This is a concrete step to provide meaningful support to Iranians demanding that their basic rights be respected," he said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.