Iran Accelerates Longstanding Quest To Cut Itself Off From The Internet

from the ill-communication dept

For much of the last decade, oppressive regimes like Iran have made ample noise about wanting to cut themselves off from the internet. Much like Russia, Iran isn't keen on this whole factual reality and free speech thing, so they've repeatedly floated the idea of severing Iranian internet access and replacing it with a local intranet -- one that's far easier to filter, censor, and otherwise disable during times of pesky democratic protest. You know, like last month, when at least 180 Iranian citizens protesting oil price hikes in Tehran were brutally murdered.

For five days Iran severed access to the internet as protests raged, though it did little to quell public anger or hamper overall protests. In response, Iran hopes to up the ante: a 2018 report (pdf) by the Center for Human Rights in Iran highlighted the country's quest to build a National Information Network (NIN) that would give Iranian leaders more granular control over what they clearly see as the most pressing threat to their control. Already under development, the effort directs citizens to heavily censored and often outright fabricated information:

"The NIN’s national search engines now systematically filter key words and phrases—and send users to sites that deliver only stateapproved and sometimes fabricated content. NIN tools and services facilitate the state’s ability to identify users and access their online communications, deeply compromising user privacy and security. The government steers Iranians toward use of the NIN and its search engines, security certificates, email services and video broadcasting services through price and internet speed incentives, violating net neutrality principles."

This week President Hassan Rouhani told Iran's parliament that the company would be dramatically expanding the development of the NIN in what's clearly a panicked response to unrest:

"Iran's intranet, known as the National Information Network, will be expanded so "people will not need foreign [networks] to meet their needs," President Rouhani said to Iran's parliament on Sunday, according to Radio Farda. The decree to bolster the NIN comes from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself, Rouhani said."

And a few days back, a number of letters were sent by the Iranian government to state-run organisations and private companies, asking them which websites they most rely on, presumably to help develop a new white list of which websites will be formally approved as the country's internet clampdown accelerates:

"Many suspect that the authorities now want to move one step further and instead of having a "black list" of banned websites, there will be a "white list" of permissible ones, with all others blocked. Mahsa Alimardani, of human rights organisation Article 19, says that approach would be "in line with the worrying indications" that Iranian authorities want to restrict access to the uncensored internet to certain people "based on their professional and social circumstances."

Granted this effort to build an Iranian internet has been ongoing since 2005 or so. But as Russia has found, the effort is a lot easier said than done, not just because it's a technical nightmare to both implement and police, but because the filtering of what many now see as an essential utility only contributes to the unrest these governments are trying to (often violently) suppress. At the end of the day, such efforts are the last refuge of cowards terrified of their own citizens, and their ability to freely communicate about whatever idiotic, ham-fisted crackdown is coming down the pike.

Filed Under: censorship, internet, iran, national information network, oppression, private internet


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2019 @ 1:50pm

    The Iran Government should talk to any old USSR apparatchiks they can find, as that government could not stop paper books and pamphlets being circulated. Throw in the capacity of micro SD cards, and stopping the circulation of banned content promoting revolution looks to be impossible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2019 @ 7:36am

      Re:

      Paper books and pamphlets can't be circulated as easily or as quickly, especially to the outside world. The government is trying to gain control of the information that is being posted live online to the rest of the world, and to block sites that are being used by protestors and, other opposition groups, to help them organize and coordinate against the government.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2019 @ 8:05am

        Re: Re:

        Paper books and pamphlets can't be circulated as easily or as quickly, especially to the outside world.

        While involving a slight delay, Micro SD cards can be circulated across borders with relative ease, and certainly far easier than banned books could.. Also, look at the anti war demos and civil rights movements from the 60's. Back then mail and word of mouth was more important than phones, as landlines went to parents hones, student residences etc. and were of limited value to protesters.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2019 @ 2:22pm

    "The NIN’s national search engines now systematically filter key words and phrases"

    Wow - Nine Inch Nails is still around?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Daydream, 17 Dec 2019 @ 2:31pm

    Karl, the title's misleading. Saying Iran's trying to cut itself off implies that the citizens of Iran approve of the project.

    The article might be better titled as '__ Accelerates Longstanding Quest To Cut Iranians Off From The Internet'.
    I'm not sure what precisely should go in the blank. 'Iranian Government'? 'Supreme Leader'? 'Occupying Regime'?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2019 @ 2:44pm

    Theres a whole industry in cuba bringing in movie,s ,tv show,s ,music,books, on usb drives and sdcards in cuba,
    Since the state provided internet is slow and expensive.
    iranians also have satellite tv.
    Even before the internet ,russia could not stop western pop music and books
    being smuggled in.
    A strict clampdown on the web could also damage irans economy and ability to trade with other countrys .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 17 Dec 2019 @ 3:56pm

    Ummm CHINA??

    Lets see..
    Small country...
    restricting ISP,
    Can they restrict CELL PHONES?? and wireless internet?
    All access to the internet would require you to go Click' to any connection inside the nation and cut all wireless..
    Then as a small country Run Block outside radio signals..
    Not an easy task.

    Then create their Own CLOSED' wireless, closed' ISP, Closed Internet. And still Block outside radio...
    Still, Not easy..

    and it will create an underground for Goods and services the Nation does not supply.. Black market..
    Good luck controlling that..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2019 @ 4:12pm

    And just about every other country on the Planet, including the USA and it's associated allies want to do exactly the same, but only as far as the people are concerned. The government, the security services, along with all their friends in industry want to maintain full access to everything and everyone, everywhere of course!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2019 @ 11:08pm

      Re:

      The 1 or 2 cyber weapons being aimed at Iran probably have something to do with it too.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2019 @ 5:41am

      Re:

      What you thought that computers existed to serve you? Aahahahahahahahahaha! Silly peasant, computers exist to enslave you. We just needed the time to work out the kinks and convince all of you that you want to pay for and carry your own collar.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    klarg (profile), 17 Dec 2019 @ 4:13pm

    Insularnetworking

    So when does MAGAnet go live?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2019 @ 4:55pm

    The decree to bolster the NIN comes from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself, Rouhani said.

    Trump's new role model

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 17 Dec 2019 @ 5:11pm

    On “The Listening Post” This Week ...

    Al Jazeera has just done a report into internet blackouts in Iran, Indian-occupied Kashmir and elsewhere. Quite sobering viewing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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