Statements by Ahmad Khatami, a member of the Iranian regime’s Assembly of Experts on cyberspace and the new government’s call for more restrictions on the free internet, have once again brought the issue of filtering and blocking internet space to the forefront of the news.
Ahmad Khatami had said in his speech that “all countries that have Internet technology have restricted the use of the Internet for their target community” and therefore called on the new president, Ibrahim Raisi, to address the issue of “national Internet” as soon as possible in Iran.
The remarks come ahead of a controversial “protection of cyberspace users” bill in parliament. The majority of parliamentary seats are held by principlist MPs, and as a result, concerns about the re-closure of cyberspace have spread on the Internet by the Iranian people.
Previously, the regime’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, in April and June of this year, called the word “national Internet” “fake” and stated that what is referred to as the national Internet is the national information network and “we in the national information network are not looking to cut ties with the world. We are looking for a regional market. If the idea of anyone in the country is to build something called the national Internet, it is not technically possible at all.”
“Go and read the National Information Network document,” Azari Jahromi told the Etemad daily, rejecting the issue of the national Internet.
The document explaining the requirements of the National Information Network has been prepared by the “National Cyberspace Center” and has been posted on related websites.
So here we are dealing with a “public” document, but surprisingly, parts of this document have been censored and kept out of the reach of experts and audiences as “unpublishable.”
The document presents the definition of a national information network as follows:
“According to the first resolution of the 15th session of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, the National Information Network, as the country’s cyberspace communication infrastructure, is a network-based on Internet contracts along with switches, routers, and data centers.
“In such a way that internal access requests for obtaining information stored in internal data centers are not routed through foreign countries in any way and it makes possible to create a private and secure internal internet networks in it.”
Not including the “unpublishable” part, with the definition of the national information network, makes the function and goals of this network ambiguous.
For example, Article 3-4 of this document entitled “National Information Network Management” in the third paragraph is announced as “unpublishable”.
But the fourth paragraph of this article states:
“Integrated management in the allocation and optimal use of national resources (such as name and address) and monitoring should be done in such a way as to minimize the impact of the use of international resources and policies and principles governing global networks and the possibility of independent management, especially in the case of network separation from the global Internet.”
Putting these two clauses together, one unpublishable and the other emphasizing the work that is done when the global internet is down raises doubts about ensuring that the Internet is not cut off.
In the third paragraph of the first article of paragraph 1-4-5 of this document, the issue goes even further, and the authors have stated that it should be possible to, provide intelligence and monitoring supervision, the possibility of legal eavesdropping and comprehensive supervision, protection against supervision and foreign influence, and comprehensive refinement and sanitation should be done in cyberspace.”
Article 4 of this clause is completely censored and has become “unpublishable”. This is repeated in Articles 9 and 10.
The first paragraph of Article 4-2 of this document states (National Information Network): “It is possible to monitor, supervise and apply various governance policies in all dimensions and layers of the network.”
Much of the Internet traffic is distributed internationally. Therefore, it raises the question that if such a law is implemented, Internet providers will cooperate with “Iranian government policies” in the field of cyberspace. If not, what happens then? Filtering or blocking access? This is also one of the ambiguities. But it seems that the regime has no other solution to “disrupted or interrupted the internet”, in cases of protests and uprisings which is the main concern of the rule.
In an interview with Etemad, the regime’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology in response to why the Internet was completely cut off during the November 2019 protests and who was responsible for its possible losses said: “All over the world, when a country’s national security is endangered, its officials limit all possibilities, which leads to chaos and disorder, and this is why it happened.”
Jahromi confirmed in the same conversation that, “the severe internet disruption in November 2019 was ordered by the National Security Council.”
In another resolution, the regime’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace approved a plan entitled “The Grand Plan and Architecture of the National Information Network” in October last year, which also includes an “unpublishable” item. The resolution outlines some of the practical goals of the National Information Network, which explicitly addresses restrictions on the global Internet, such as “elimination of dependence on GPS “or” determining the share of 70 to 30 traffic for internal and external services “or” tariffing 2 to 3 times access to external content in front of the national information network.”
So, it becomes clear that signs of restrictions on the Internet and cyberspace are more visible than ever in the national document of the National Information Network.