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Security Official Threatens More Internet Censorship As Iran Moves Towards Intranet

An Iranian man shows his phone while unable to load a social media page as internet service is reportedly disrupted, Tehran, Iran, 17 November 2019.
An Iranian man shows his phone while unable to load a social media page as internet service is reportedly disrupted, Tehran, Iran, 17 November 2019.

Abolhassan Firoozabadi, the secretary of Iran's Supreme Council of Cyberspace (ISCC), says that if Internet platforms are not compatible with the laws and standards of the Islamic Republic, they will be censored.

Firoozabadi said on Sunday that filters may be implemented on Internet content "if the platforms do not comply with Iranian law" or "create cultural, social, political and security issues" for Iran.

Speaking on a TV show, Firoozabad praised China as a successful "model" in censoring the Internet for its citizens, which it implemented through simulating applications and tools, he noted.

Firouzabadi explained that, ideally, "(Iran's) national information network (intranet) will not initially filter the internet," but censorship mechanisms will be used on foreign platforms have "significant destructive security implications."

Earlier on August 24, several members of the Iranian Majlis Parliament submitted a motion to the parliament's presidium to "organize social media," emphasizing the need to replace foreign messaging apps with domestic ones.

The motion, which was amended and signed by forty members of the Iranian parliament, contains fines and imprisonment for unlicensed providers of social media and for parties that reproduce and distribute VPNs and filter breakers.

The Internet in Iran has always been riddled with disruptions and restrictions, including significant filtering mechanisms by various security, intelligence, and communication institutions. Iran has also censored the Telegram messenger app, which has been the most popular among Iranians.

Last March, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a report marking World Cyber Censorship Day, in which Iran's Supreme Council of Cyberspace was named among the twenty governmental and non-governmental organizations with the worst records in cyber suppression.

The Iranian government has also spent years pursuing a plan to build a domestic intranet separate from the global Internet for security and censorship purposes called the "National Network."

In April 2019, the Research Center of the Islamic Consultative Assembly estimated that about 190 trillion rials (approximately $4.5 billion) had been spent on creating an intranet last year.

As recently as September 1, the head of the Council and Internal Affairs Commission of the Iranian Parliament, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, said that launching an Iranian national intranet is included in the new partnership being planned between Iran and China.

Speaking to the pro-reform website Entekhab (Choice), Jokar said that Tehran had previously welcomed help from allies like China and Russia in its internet development, adding that the proposed document detailing Iran and China's potential partnership contains details about Iran's national intranet under the title of "cooperation between Iran and China to develop cyberspace."

For his previous work in Internet censorship in Iran, Firouzabadi landed on the list of Iranians sanctioned by the United States, with the U.S. Treasury Department saying in a May 2018 statement, "Firouzabadi is responsible for the Iranian government's efforts to block social media applications like Telegram and force Iranians to use state-run applications monitored by the regime."