After Blood and Shutdowns
Internet shutdowns are a serious violation of international human rights standards.
They restrict people from sharing vital information quickly and easily. They obstruct journalists from monitoring events and reporting violence, and they disrupt protests.
Government ordered Internet shutdowns are fast becoming a key tactic to disconnect people from each other and to prevent us from scrutinising our governments’ actions.
During nation-wide protests in November 2019 Iran’s government cut off the Internet for over 80 million people. As the shutdown continued the authorities attacked and killed hundreds.
Since then, the Iranian government has continued to shut down the Internet every time protests take place. Iranians are increasingly anxious that the authorities will prevent them from accessing vital information by cutting off their access to the global Internet.
In our latest report, Tightening the Net 2020: After Blood and Shutdowns, ARTICLE 19:
- Reveals the complex infrastructure and the opacity in decision making processes that have allowed the Iranian government to repeatedly shutdown the Internet whenever they choose.
- Examines the role US sanctions have played in isolating Iranians
- Considers the outlook for Internet governance and connectivity in Iran
- Outlines clear solutions to address this problem.
Download our report
What happened during the events of November 2019?
How can the Iranian government shut down the Internet for over 80 million people?
The creation of the National Information Network
Contrary to popular belief, there was no centralised “switch off” from the global internet.
Instead, the scale and length of Iran’s November shutdowns were the result of a government serving each Internet Service Provider (ISP) direct orders to disconnect their users from international traffic.
Explore the images below to learn more about how Iran has effectively created a ‘national’ Internet.
(Hover over the images to use the zoom function)
The Role of US Sanctions
The US’s Maximum Pressure policy prevents Iran from engaging in international trade.
This has played right into Iranian government propaganda about Iranian “vulnerability to outside forces”.
And it has pushed Iranian developers and websites onto the National Information Network.
This closed Internet system means that people and the private sector are restricted from accessing the global Internet.
In short, US sanctions are further isolating people in Iran.
Who was responsible for the shutdown?
There has been no judicial oversight of 2019’s shutdown.
Even in the context of Iran’s complex governance structures, it is still unclear precisely who ordered the blackout.
Our report calls on Iran to all document all Internet governance and decision making with complete transparency.
(Hover over the image to use the zoom function)
What are the implications for the future of digital rights and freedom of expression in Iran?
The National Information Network doesn’t guarantee anonymity, privacy or data protection. Rather, authorities may filter or censor content based on political, cultural or religious criteria.
Net neutrality is undermined, diversity of content is severely reduced, and people are prevented from freely exchanging information.
In the event of future protests, the government can shutdown the Internet again, preventing Iranians from coming together and from accessing international news.
And, as we have already seen, future shutdowns mean that the murder of innocent people will happen again and could escalate unchecked.
Calls to Action
ARTICLE 19 recommends the following actions and solutions for Iran, the EU, the US, and Tech Companies:
The Iranian Ministry of ICT
1. Acknowledge the events of November 2019 as a serious violation of International Human Rights standards.
2. Conduct a transparent and independent investigation into all the officials that enact censorship and shutdowns.
3. Prosecute the individuals responsible and bring them to justice.
4. Continue decentralising the Internet infrastructure and create the CRA (full form) that oversees Internet governance according to International Human Rights Standards.
- Stop using “national security” as an excuse to suppress the people’s right to protest and their freedom of expression.
- Stop ordering Internet shutdowns.
- Document all decision making with respect to Internet governance with complete transparency.
- Pass laws that recognise access to the Internet as a human right.
- Cease ongoing discussions to block Internet applications such as Instagram
- Protect Freedom of Expression online in accordance with international freedom of expression standards. Any restrictions should have a sufficiently clear basis in law, and be necessary and proportionate to a legitimate aim under the ICCPR.
- Reverse their order to block Telegram from April 2018
The Committee Charged with Determining Offensive Content
- Reverse its order to censor Twitter and Facebook from 2009.
- Refrain from limiting freedom of expression and access to information online.
- Reform its mandate to tackle and remove offensive content that follows international standards for freedom of expression.
The European Union
- Dialogue with Iranian representatives, (through the European External Action Service), and encourage Iran to reform its data protection regulations in line with international standards on privacy, including the GDPR.
- Seek bilateral talks between the EU Commission’s Units (i.e. Head of the International Data Flows and Protection Unit) and the Islamic Republic of Iran to leverage data trade relationships through privacy and data protection reform.
The United States
- Broaden the scope of General License D-1 within the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the Treasury Department to facilitate the export and provision of a wider range of services by US technology companies to Iran, such as through the Apple App store, or the Google Cloud Platform.
- Examine the effects of its Maximum Pressure policy. One of the most obvious results of economic isolation is incentivising Iranian authorities towards a closed Internet system, and diminishing the costs of shutdowns from the global Internet.
- Recognise that although Iran remains connected economically to the rest of the world, it also has an incentive to remain digitally connected to the rest of the world. Current US policies of maximum pressure preclude the possibility for Iran to develop mechanisms to be engaged in international trade, or keep its citizenry and private sector connected to the global Internet.
- Reverse these isolationist policies.
US Technology Companies
- Recognise the centrality of their role in providing services within Iran. They must seek General License D-1 wherever possible, and offer both commercial and personal hosting in order to deliver secure hosting and platforms options within Iran (and prevent buy-in into the NIN).
- Revisit all platforms they block inside Iran and work with OFAC to ensure whitelisting of their services to Iran.
The International Telecommunications Union
- Condemn Internet shutdowns in all their forms.
- Ensure its members stay vigilant towards international human rights law.
Stopping Internet shutdowns and keeping people safe during protests means that we can protect Iran’s economy and people’s lives.