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.