Tightening the net: Online openings and closings in Iran

Tightening the net: Online openings and closings in Iran - Digital

An architect, checks Facebook on her smart phone as she hangs out with friends, Tehran. Photo: Panos.

A lot has happened during the start of payeez (Persian for autumn) in Iran. In this report, our fourth of the Tightening the Net series, ARTICLE 19 looks at Internet development from September to November 2017. A significant event has been the closing of Cloob, the Iranian alternative to Facebook, after its owners gave up their struggle to appease government authorities. This is a significant blow to the National Information Network (NIN), especially as the government continues to maintain a strict policy that the NIN underpins the Supreme Council of Cyberspace (SCC)’s efforts to counter the ‘cyberwar’ efforts of Iran’s ‘enemies’.

Our documentation of the implications of the new social media regulations continue, as the SCC warns (again) of imminent filtering of Telegram and Instagram due to the noncompliance of foreign platforms with the new policies.

Chaos on Internet policy, implementation, and the distribution of responsibilities across various institutions are similarly a marker of this period, as the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) struggles to justify the decisions of the judiciary to censor platforms such as Swarm and Foursquare. Additionally, the Rouhani government fails to protect freedoms and create opportunities online as the country’s hardline judiciary and Revolutionary Guards continue their arrests, targeted campaigns of hackings, and prosecution of Iranian Internet users.

Our recommendations

The Minister’s statements on his desire to unfilter Twitter and keep Telegram and Instagram from censorship are clearly at odds with his efforts to reconcile the desires of the nation’s hardline elements, especially the judiciary. The Rouhani administration faces a number of challenges if it is to keep its promise to protect Internet freedoms and encourage innovation. ARTICLE 19 recommends as follows:

For the Ministry of ICT

  • Cease policies that encourage the nationalisation of content and platforms for the purposes of controlling information ows;

  • Cease the ICT Ministry’s practice of giving discounts to those using local social media, in breach of the net neutrality principle;

  • Engage with the judiciary to end its restrictive approach to freedom of expression in Iran, especially in relation to its adverse treatment of Telegram channels and their administrators;

  • Ensure transparent documentation of ltering decisions such as the recent blocks on Swarm and Foursquare, and clarify the processes behind the CCDOC implementation of unfiltering;

  • To document the communications and negotiations with technology companies Telegram and Facebook (for Instagram).

    For the Supreme Council of Cyberspace:

  • Withdraw the social media regulations;

  • Cease existing censorship and threats to further censor platforms;

  • Stop encouraging the use of local platforms and instead encourage local development of technology without intimidation or violations of international standards such as net neutrality and freedom of expression.

For the judiciary

• Immediately and unconditionally release the Telegram channel administrators arrested for running pro-Rouhani Telegram channels;

• Immediately release and stop the persecution of Telegram users and administrators for sharing content related to homosexuality;

• Recognise the right of Telegram channels and other bodies and individuals to express ideas and information without restraint;

• Bring international human rights standards in Iranian law and its implementation.

For the press and media

• Reject the government’s preferential treatment for media organisations through the provision of unrestricted access to the Internet;

• Work instead with marginalised groups to ensure equal access for all persons in Iran.

For Iran’s telecommunication industry:

• Decline to cooperate with the government in providing discounts to users who choose to use local social media platforms and receive local content, in violation of international standards on net neutrality.

For social media companies (particularly Telegram and Facebook)

• Consider new features and abilities for Telegram channel administrators to protect their identities to prevent further prosecution from Iranian authorities;

• Documentation and transparency by companies such as Telegram and Instagram regarding the Iranian government’s claims of communication and negotiations.

Read the briefing