A few weeks after the National Information Network (intranet) plan was confirmed by Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace, parts of it were published by the state-run Mehr News Agency.
The National Information Network’s “master engineering design” was approved on September 15 by Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace (ISCC) after it was confirmed by the regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
What is the National Information Network?
The Iranian regime has spent years pursuing a plan to build a domestic intranet separate from the global internet for security and censorship purposes called the “National Network.”
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 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.
Only in one instance, Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, previously announced that over 100,000 billion tomans were spent on the NIN infrastructure. This is 26 times the Ministry of Information and Communication’s budget and 66 times more than the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism budget in one year.
In April 2019, the Research Center of the Islamic Consultative Assembly estimated that about 190 trillion rials (approximately $4.5 billion) had been spent on creating the intranet last year.
This is while the state-run ILNA News Agency reported today that over 90% of villages in Iran don’t have any access to the internet. Official figures published in October showed that half of Iran’s population are living in absolute poverty.
Iran’s cyber freedom
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.
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 new 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.”