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Senators Menendez, Blackburn, Representatives Malinowski, Tenney Challenge Big Tech to Help Iranian Protestors

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) in addition to Representatives Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) in leading a bipartisan, bicameral letter to America’s top technology companies urging them to provide the Iranian people the technology needed to overcome censorship and communicate securely. 

The US Department of the Treasury recently issued a general license allowing US companies to provide the Iranian people access to communication services and technologies in the midst of regime oppression. The lawmakers argued that the big tech companies – including Google, Apple and Facebook – can do much more to help Iranians in accordance with the general license. Tools like cloud hosting services, access to messaging platforms, and app stores are vital resources that these companies can and should make available to Iranian protesters and activists.

Additional signatories include Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Representatives Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Andy Kim (D-N.J.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), and Young Kim (R-Calif.).

“For over forty long days, the Iranian regime has responded to crowds of brave women and men all over the country chanting against the systemic misogyny and repression as all fearful authoritarian governments do— with censorship, and with brutal violence,” said Chairman Menendez. “The regime’s ongoing internet and communication services blackouts are hurting, but not stopping the people Iran. These tactics prevent them from fully opening the eyes of world to the repression and injustice they live with each and every day. But they have not stopped the calls for ‘women, life, and freedom.’ That is why we are sending this direct, bipartisan call to the leadership of the most powerful tech firms in our country. Silicon Valley can make a real difference by helping provide the people of Iran with means to circumvent regime-controlled communications, and legally offer the kinds of technology now allowed under new general licensing policies issued by the Treasury Department.”

“The Biden administration has opened a door for tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook to help Iranians who are risking their lives for freedom,” said Representative Malinowski. “Now they need to walk through it.”

“As the Iranian regime continues to brutally repress those protesting for freedom, access to communications services is key. Today, I am calling on technology companies to ensure the Iranian people have access to these critical communications, safe from surveillance by the murderous regime,” said Representative Tenney.

Read the letter below or click here.

Dear Mr. Pichai, Jassy, Cook, Zuckerberg, Nadella, and Spruill:

We write you concerning the recent issuance of General License D-2 (GLD-2) by the Department of the Treasury and urge your companies and their subsidiaries to utilize the new license and expand lawful access of key communications services to Iranians inside Iran. In response to nationwide protests, the Iranian regime has sought to suppress the protests with force, mass detentions, and has severely restricted internet and communication services. It remains vitally important that Iranians retain connections to the outside world, access to sources of independent information, and remain connected to one another. We ask your companies to provide expeditiously and lawfully the tools Iranians need to circumvent government blockages.

Following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa (Zhina) Amini while in custody of Iran’s “morality police,” Iranians have sustained protests across the country to demand an end to structural discrimination laws and government repression. In addition to its security response, the regime has also caused a near-total disruption of internet connectivity in parts of Iran and blocked various messaging platforms and video games with chat functions.

We commend the Department of the Treasury for issuing GLD-2i in response to congressional calls to expand unrestricted internet access in Iran, particularly censorship circumvention technologies. 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. We ask that you work expeditiously to ensure these technologies, which would be the most useful to Iranians, get consideration:

- Cloud & hosting services: These services are vital for Iranians to move off insecure domestic data infrastructure controlled by government institutions. Returning these services to Iranian civil society and citizens will enable more adaptive responses to government-imposed internet shutdowns, including running their own VPNs and creating safe data storage.

- Messaging platforms and other communication tools: Expanding the number of messaging platforms makes it harder for Iranian authorities to shut off all communication at once. In addition, private messaging services provide more ways for Iranians to remain connected while lessening dependance on government-controlled infrastructure.

- Developer and analytics tools: Developer software and services will make it easier for Iranian civil society to create and harden their own secure communications apps and virtual proxy networks (VPNs) to circumvent government filters. Access to analytics software would also improve their own tools and avoid Iran-based analytic services, which have a nexus with government institutions and collect customer data. Domain, routing, and hosting services, along with security certificates and privacy enhancing technologies, would likewise improve resilience.

- Access to app stores: Iranians ought to have access to app stores that let Iranians upload their apps on a secure distribution platform and provide an alternative to Iranian app stores, which risk surveillance.

We encourage you to take advantage of GLD-2 and engage directly with the Department of the Treasury to understand fully the licensed activities under the GLD-2. We also ask that you identify and share any obstacles that remain to providing communications services and tools (software or hardware) to Iranians in Iran, whether in law, policy, or the business environment. Iranians are fearlessly risking their lives for their fundamental rights and dignity. 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.