Sharara Abdolhosseinzadeh, Ph.D., political sociologist and political researcher in Tehran, discusses internet censorship in Iran…
A few days after the start of the protests in Iran, the right to access the Internet was restricted and social platforms were liquidated. The government of Iran used the unrest as a pretext and started moving towards creating a national internet.
The limited access to the internet began during the first week of protests against the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini at Hijab Police Headquarters, and continues to this day. But in recent weeks, disruption to global internet access has been worse than ever. One by one, VPNs are all out of reach, messengers and social networks are getting more and more difficult to access, and foreign websites are being swept away by a wave of filtering.
On December 4, a news article was published in the media quoting Ahmed Vahidi, Minister of Interior in the 13th government, referring to a “complete liquidation of cyberspace” and it was rejected a few hours later. Mohsen Tayeb, the former head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Intelligence Service, said on December 18: “[t]Here will come a day on the platforms where we will determine whose picture will be published and who will not.” In the past three months, the Ministry of Communications in Ibrahim Raisi’s government has issued contradictory statements on this subject.
Since the beginning of the government’s disruption of the Internet, companies in the country have been affected daily by no less than 500 million riyals and no more than 5,000 million riyals. More than 41% of the companies lost 25-50% of their income during this period and about 47% experienced a decrease in sales of more than 50%. A review of data from deputy research at the Iranian Tax Affairs Organization shows that internet outages cause 30,000 billion riyals of damage per day. This means that the cost of 3 months of internet outages in Iran is equivalent to 43% of one year of the country’s oil revenue ($25 billion).
According to the Internet Observatory IODA, the internet in the provinces of Kurdistan, Alborz, Tehran, Semnan, Lorestan, Bushehr, has been severely cut off over the past few days. Mobile and home internet in the Kurdistan Region has been severely disrupted since around 10:00 pm on Saturday, December 6, and is still continuing as of this writing. Unique IP address access to the Internet in the Kurdistan Region was close to being completely shut down at times.
Internet restriction in Iran is not limited to these protests. Facebook and Twitter were also liquidated in Iran during the protests against the 2009 presidential election. Telegram was also liquidated during the 2019 protests. However, the popularity of these applications did not decrease due to the general use of VPNs. For years, the Iranian authorities have viewed these networks as a threat and have been waiting for an opportunity to liquidate them.
Iranian netizens have been listed as underage by Google’s web search engines since July of this year, two months before the protests began, and their search results have been restricted and filtered. After a long period of network outages and reduced internet quality, 85 million Iranians are now considered children.
In other words, if Internet users in Iran wanted to use Google, they would encounter filtered and limited results. This is because SafeSearch is permanent on these operators’ network and cannot be revoked.
Follow-up shows that this problem was not implemented by the operators but by the Ministry of Communications. The restrictions opened a new chapter in the protection of 85 million Iranians after the recent unrest.
SafeSearch in other countries is generally used by people under the age of 18 as well as by schools and universities. This even affects the process of scientific research and research. If someone is searching for research materials, accurate information may not be shown to them and they may see very unhelpful results.
This action is considered a violation of civil rights, because according to the Charter of Citizens’ Rights compiled and proclaimed by the previous government, access to the Internet, information and communication is a right of citizens.
According to the principles of international conventions, freedom of access to communications and information is a citizen’s right. But with these restrictions enabled for everyone, people can access incomplete or poor information when searching. This is considered a violation of human rights from an international perspective and can have consequences.
For example, at the international legal level, according to the licensing agreements of these search engines, the safe search function should only be used for users under 18 years of age or for schools. According to this provision and the generalization of this ability to the entire Iranian people, the license has been violated. The owner of the platform can file a lawsuit against the violator of this license in foreign courts. For example, in Europe, the Ministry of Communications can be sued in a human rights court.
Iran is likely to face sanctions because of these restrictions. If the platforms can prove that the SafeSearch function in Iran has been violated and the flow of information has been restricted, they can request that SafeSearch in Iran be completely deactivated. In fact, the service that could have been used is completely beyond the reach of all families due to the abuse.
The country’s cyber governance has been compromised by such an action. Also, financial fines are possible for the infrastructure telecom company.
Sharah Abdolhosseinzadeh holds a Ph.D. in political sociology and a political researcher in Tehran.
Suggested quote: Sharareh Abdolhoseinzadeh, International Consequences of Internet Restriction in Iran, Fakih – Professional Commentary, 24 Dec. 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/12/Sharareh-Abdolhoseinzadeh-Iran-internet-censorship/.
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