In a new law passed yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace said websites and social media accounts with over 5,000 viewers or members will be monitored by judicial and government agencies.
According to the state-run IRNA News Agency, the social media platforms that will be monitored will include Instagram, Twitter, and Telegram.
According to IT Iran, a website that covers tech news, the law stipulates that account owners must immediately remove “unreal” information, news, or other content, upon being informed and must post an explanation, then report to the relevant authorities.
Accounts monitored will include social media channels, pages, websites, and apps that have over 5,000 viewers or members.
According to the new law, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, must establish a mechanism to collect information on the “contact points” of the accounts and social media platforms to “actively combat false information”.
Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace was established in 2012 following a decree by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Khamenei.
According to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Iran is included in the list of press freedom’s 20 worst digital predators in 2020, which include companies and government agencies that use digital technology to spy on and harass journalists and thereby jeopardize freedom of access to news and information.
Iran is also ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
A master plan of censorship
In October 2020, the Supreme Council of Cyberspace confirmed the National Information Network (intranet) plan, a “master engineering design” for a domestic intranet separate from the global internet for security and censorship purposes.
Proposed in 2005, the National Information Network (NIN) is an ongoing project to develop an infrastructure intranet network. The “master engineering design” was signed by Hassan Rouhani in September.
According to the state-run Mehr, the purpose of the “national” network is to “reduce dependency and prevent foreign access to Iran’s cyberspace”. The news agency also said the NIN would create an environment that would be “in accordance with Iran’s Islamic culture”. The plan includes software services, as well as infrastructure objectives.
The services will include a “national” intranet search engine, messenger, social media platforms, internal email system, user registration and a domestic operating system. An operating system for smartphones with the goal of obtaining at least 20% of the smartphone market has been included in the “master engineering design” according to the report.
It will also include system “enhancements” in Iran’s security, law enforcement and judicial institutions to “identify” and deal with crimes and violations in cyberspace, with an annual goal of 25% crime reduction.
Human rights organizations have expressed concern over the National Information Network plan, saying that Iranians will be denied freedom of information. They say the main goal of the NIN is to cutoff Iranians from the world.
Iran’s cyber freedom
Last year, during November 2019 nationwide protests, the Iranian regime implemented a 3-day internet blackout to suppress protesters and hide the scope of the crackdown.
On October 8, the regime created internet disruptions in Tehran when Iranians who had gathered to pay their respects to legendary singer and musician Mohammad-Reza Shajarian chanted “death to the dictator” echoing the iconic singer’s chant during 2009 protests.
On October 15, two Telegram administrators were arrested in Ardabil, northwestern Iran, for “insulting” officials.
According to a report by Freedom House, the application of national sovereignty to cyberspace is a tactic used by autocratic governments. It has given them “free rein to crack down on human rights while ignoring objections from local civil society and the international community.”
The report said that Iran’s government cut off connections to hide the police’s violent response to mass protests in late 2019 adding that this was “an ultimate expression of contempt for freedoms of association and assembly, as well as for the right to access information.”