After the Iranian government signed a 25-year contract with China last month, the concerns of Iran’s people are becoming real. Until now many parts of the contract have not been made public and parts of it which are now public are not telling the truth about the dark purpose harming the people and the interests of the country.
Now after two weeks it has become clear that one part of it is the government’s goal of spying on the people with the help of China by gaining full control over the internet.
Iran’s government has a long history of internet censorship and is one of the worst countries in the world for internet freedom. The Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI), the Ministry of Culture, the Islamic Guidance, the Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) are working together to put a strict control on the internet, according to Iran experts. Working alongside native internet service providers (ISPs) to implement content-control software of the websites and email and spying on the people’s communication in the social media.
In 2010, Reporters Without Borders included Iran on its list of 13 countries designated as “Enemies of the Internet”. And on Freedom House’s internet freedom status map, Iran has a score of 15 from 100 which is indicated as ‘not free.’
This score was based on three areas that Freedom House tracked:
- 7 out of 25 points for obstacles to access
- 5 out of 35 points for limits on content
- 3 out of 40 points for violations of user rights.
The report noted that Iranian authorities have a 42,000-strong army of volunteers who monitor online speech. Key internet controls used by the regime included:
- Social media or communications platforms blocked
- Political, social, or religious content blocked
- Progovernment commentators manipulate online discussions
- Blogger or ICT user arrested, imprisoned, or in prolonged detention for political or social content
- Blogger or ICT user physically attacked or killed (including in custody)
- Technical attacks against government critics or human rights organization
By alibis like “counter-revolutionary”, “anti-Islamic” or “anti-social” the government is trying to restrict the people’s access to the internet, while in truth they are fearing the people’s awareness over a free world and their connection with the regime’s opposition. The goal is to prevent any protests and voices against its rule, according to activists.
The application of internet censorship and its enforcement is the responsibility of the so-called Supreme Council of Virtual Space.
In one its latest enactments on September 15, 2020, this council in its 66th meeting approved the so-called ‘Master Plan and Architecture of the National Information Network’, which was informed to the regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and its start was approved by the Secretary of this council on October 7, 2020.
This is just one of the many levers of Iran’s government to crack down on the people’s access to the internet. The Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content (CDICC) makes the decisions on censorship, which is just a cover for the censorship of opponent voices.
In the protests of the past years, there were multiple reports that mobile data and foreign websites were difficult to access, which could be an indication that traffic is being blocked or throttled.
In 2016, Iran invested $36 million to develop “smart filtering” technology. This was based on existing Chinese software. The software would allow authorities to censor the internet access of its citizens selectively.
The 25-year Iran-China contract not only is selling the country to China, but is also taking away the people’s freedoms. In an interview with the state-run Mehr news agency, Mahmoud Nabavian, one of the regime’s clerics and the Vice Chairman of the Commission of Principle 90 of the regime’s parliament, said about the regime desire on internet control:
“At the moment, unfortunately, we do not have control over cyberspace, search engines, social media, and e-mail, and we have lost control of it, and it is very important for us to be able to control our cyberspace by working with the Chinese. Produce tablets, laptops and mobile phones and cooperate with China in the field of artificial intelligence.” (State-run news agency Mehr, April 11, 2021)
For the government of Iran and Khamenei, apparently, it seems that cyberspace is the Achilles’ heel. So, it is using any source to restrict this tool of the free world, mostly with the help of countries who are appeasing this regime.