Sharareh Abdolhoseinzadeh, PhD in political sociology and political researcher in Tehran, discusses Internet censorship in Iran.
A few days after the protests began in Iran, internet access was restricted and social platforms were filtered. The Iranian government used the unrest as an excuse to start working towards establishing a national Internet.
Limited access to the Internet began during the first week of protests against the death of Mahsa Amini at the Hijab police headquarters, and continues to this day. But in recent weeks, global internet outages have become worse than ever. one by one All VPNs are out of reach; Reporters and social networks are becoming more difficult to access, and a wave of filtering is sweeping foreign websites.
On December 4, a news article was published in the media citing the 13th government’s interior minister, Ahmad Vahidi, citing “complete filtering of cyberspace,” which he denied a few hours later. On December 18, Mohsen Taeb, the head of IRGC intelligence, said, “[t]Whose photo will be published here? There will come a day on the platform where we will decide who is who.” In the last 3 months, the Ministry of Communications of the Ebrahim Raisi government has issued contradictory statements on the matter.
Since the start of the government’s internet blackout, the country’s businesses have been damaged daily by at least 500 million Rials and at most 5000 million Rials. More than 41% of companies lost 25-50% of their revenue during this period, and about 47% experienced a drop of more than 50% in sales. According to a research by the Research Assistant of the Iranian Tax Affairs Organization, Internet outages cause 30000 billion Rials in damage per day. That means the cost of a 3-month internet outage in Iran is equivalent to 43 percent of the country’s oil revenue for a year ($25 billion).
According to the IODA Internet Observatory, Kurdistan; Alborz, Tehran, Semnan, Internet in Lorestan and Bushehr provinces has been severely disrupted for the past few days. Mobile and home internet in Kurdistan province on Saturday. On December 6, around 10:00 p.m., there was a severe outage. As of the writing of this report, the process is ongoing. Internet access to unique IPs in Kurdistan Province is sometimes close to being completely closed.
Internet restrictions in Iran are not limited to these protests. Facebook and Twitter were also filtered in Iran during protests against the 2009 presidential elections. Telegram was also filtered during the 2019 protests. However, the popularity of these applications has not decreased due to the general use of VPNs. Iranian authorities have identified these networks as a threat for years and have been waiting for an opportunity to filter them out.
Two months before the protests began, Iranian Internet users were listed as underage by Google web search engines, limiting and filtering their search results. 85 million Iranians are now considered children after long network disruptions and declining internet quality.
In other words, If Internet users in Iran want to use Google, they must face filtering and limited results. Because Safe Search is always on these operators’ networks and cannot be canceled.
According to further statements, this problem is not implemented by the operators, but by the Ministry of Communications. The restrictions open a new chapter of protection for Iran’s 85 million citizens after recent disturbances.
In other countries, Safe Search is generally used by people under 18, but also in schools and universities. It even affects the scientific and research process. If a person is searching for research material, it may not show accurate information and he may see very useless results.
This act is a violation of civil rights, and according to the Charter of Civil Rights published by the previous government, access to the Internet and information and communication is a right of citizens.
According to the basic principles of international conventions, freedom of communication and access to information is a right of a citizen. But with such restrictions on everyone, people can get incomplete or poor information when they search. This is considered a violation of human rights from an international perspective and may have consequences.
for example, At the international legal level, According to the license agreements of these search engines; The safe search function should only be used by users under the age of 18 or in schools. This clause and the generalization of this ability to the Iranian people as a whole violates the license. The Platform Owner may sue anyone who violates this license in foreign courts. for example, In Europe, The Ministry of Communications can be sued in the Human Rights Court.
Iran is likely to face sanctions for these restrictions. If the platforms can prove that the Safe Search operation in Iran has been violated and the flow of information is restricted. They could order a permanent shutdown of Safe Search for Iran. In fact, A service that all families can use is completely inaccessible because of abuse.
The possibility of compromising the country’s cyber governance would make the international court rule that Iran’s cyber governance would be the most damaging. In addition, there may be financial penalties for the infrastructure telecommunications company.
Sharareh Abdolhoseinzadeh is a political researcher in Tehran with a PhD in political sociology.
Suggested References: Sharareh Abdolhoseinzadeh International Consequences of Internet Restrictions in Iran; JURIST – Professional commentary; December 24 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/12/Sharareh-Abdolhoseinzadeh-Iran-internet-censorship/.
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