Iran Clamps Down on Internet Freedom

As March’s parliamentary elections grow closer, Iran is ramping up its Internet controls. Last week, the Iranian government issued an order giving cybercafes 15 days to install cameras and security monitoring equipment as well as implement policies requiring personal identification of their patrons. Customers at cybercafes will now be asked to provide personal information such as their full names, national identification number, telephone number, and postal code as well as details about their Internet usage, including time of use, IP address, and websites accessed during their sessions. As one journalist points out, the new restrictions serve the dual purpose of allowing the Iranian government to keep closer tabs on cybercafes, which have previously served as a safe haven for dissidents and those fearing government monitoring on their home networks, while also compelling users to police themselves and reduce the potential for dissident activity before government is pushed to deal with it itself.

In addition to the new restrictions on cybercafes, the Iranian government also recently unveiled plans for the implementation of a domestic ‘halal’ intranet that will be unconnected to the Internet at large. Although the government has begun testing of the new intranet, it is not planned to go live for another few weeks and is unlikely to supplant external access by the March 2nd elections.  While Iran’s new controls on cybercafes are of significant and pressing concern with the looming elections, the government’s plans to develop a national intranet is equally, if not more, concerning. The creation of a national intranet in combination with the nation’s current Internet restrictions would allow the Iranian government to exercise near complete control over the online content available within the country while monitoring who accesses that content.

Both measures mark unprecedented expansions of online monitoring and control on the part of the Iranian government.  That the regime is worried about the effects of the Internet is not surprising; online technologies played at least a small role in facilitating the Arab Spring uprisings. As elections and major political events draw nearer, countries such as Iran and China have stepped up efforts to curtail online resources that could serve as outlets for dissent. In both cases, the countries are making permanent changes to their networks in order to address perceived temporary threats to government power.

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