This year ARTICLE 19 has decided to participate at the 2018 WSIS Forum with a focus on Iran. We are concerned Iran’s National Committee is participating in a fora that demands the protection of freedom of expression, while unabashedly presenting the very tools that work to curb this in the name of protecting “morals in cyberspace.”
The 2018 WSIS Forum is a week-long, multi-stakeholder event in Geneva that brings together the global “information society”. Each year, the Forum fosters discussion on the progress that’s been made towards fulfilling the commitments of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the WSIS+10 review. The Forum will be hosting a series of workshops, policy sessions, and interactive events that explore how the WSIS community can harness information and communication technologies (ICTs) to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
We urge WSIS not to give Iran a platform to speak of “progress” online before the Iranian government can address how Iran’s Internet ecosystem will cease undermining the values of “human rights in the information society” as set out by the WSIS agenda.
ARTICLE 19 believes that only stable, secure and open access to the Internet will allow for the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Continued censorship of websites and Internet platforms, Internet shutdowns, violations of net neutrality in pursuit of the National Information Network, and the continued enforcement of the country’s Computer Crimes Laws make Iran’s commitments to the WSIS agenda and the SDGs problematic. Human rights offenses occur everyday both online and offline, in contradiction to Iran’s commitment to the Tunis Agenda, WSIS UN resolutions, and the international movement to ensure that access to information remains an indelible part of achieving the ninth and seventeenth SDGs: building a resilient global Internet infrastructure.
Last year, Iran’s former Minister of Information Communication and Technology told WSIS that the Iranian government were fulfilling WSIS objectives through initiatives such as the National Information Network: Iran’s plans for a state-hosted internet; and increasing broadband and data services to millions of Iranians. A year on, during a 19 March 2018 Iran Country Workshop at the WSIS Forum, a member of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance explained that their project of promoting a “moral cyberspace” with web-platform registration requirements like “Shamad” were fulfilling the values of the WSIS agenda.
The capabilities of these infrastructures and regulations to curb freedom of expression and the free flow of information directly contradict the outcome document of the UN General Assembly on the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (A/RES/70/125), where item two clearly stipulates the conditions for “Human rights in the information society”. Particular emphasis is made in line 45 which states “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
During protests in December 2017 and January 2018, Internet users reported intermittent periods of disconnection to websites and applications hosted outside of Iran. This included reports of blockings to apps such as Telegram and Instagram, as well as other periods of blocked access to websites hosted on foreign servers. Circumvention tools such as Lantern were also targeted by blocks placed on cloud hosting services, such as Digital Ocean, used by local businesses for many purposes. Even after the Telegram block was lifted, disruption to Internet access continued. Both Telegram and its users confirmed the government was throttling the platform in Iran.
Moreover, Iran’s National Information Network (NIN), first launched in 2012, has expanded the government’s controls over information flows in the country. The government’s attempts to centralise these controls are particularly concerning, given the broad content-based criminal offences within the 2010 Computer Crimes Law and its corresponding and far-reaching surveillance, search and seizure powers. Furthermore, the strengthening of local infrastructure for hosting Internet platforms has emboldened the government to cut off the nation from international traffic during times of heightened tension, such as protests. Additional efforts to undermine net neutrality principles, by convincing telecommunications companies to provide subsidies for Iranians to use local Internet platforms over foreign services, are strengthening the government’s ability to censor and monitor information flows within Iran.
Internet shutdowns clearly violate international human rights standards. UN Human Rights Council resolution 32/13 (A/HRC/32/L.20), adopted by consensus in July 2016, “condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt information online in violation of international human rights law”. And yet, despite calls from the Human Rights Council to stop such practices, reports from the current Minister for ICT have confirmed that the government of Iran continues to order the disruption of Internet traffic, even in contravention of its own national legal procedures.
The outcome of the WSIS+10 review affirmed the commitment of the Tunis Agenda to the right to freedom of opinion and expression and other rights as guaranteed to all individuals by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In its conclusion, the WSIS review was unequivocal: human rights comprise the very core of the WSIS vision.
ARTICLE 19 urges the WSIS Forum to move beyond focusing on the number of resources to which Internet users can connect. Access to information must be open and unrestricted across the full diversity of content available on the Internet, and at all times. The human rights framework emphasises the discretion of Internet users to decide what information to access and when. We call on the Forum to stop giving Iran a platform to present it’s Internet infrastructure without taking them to task on the WSIS values of human rights the infrastructure of the Iranian Internet continually undermines.