Iranian Police Boast Presence Monitoring Social Media
Iran’s Cyber Police are actively monitoring Iranians’ activity on the internet, Colonel Massoud Zahedian, Commander of the Morality Police, told ISNA today. “The Police are present on the Internet and are monitoring environments such as Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, etc.,” he said.
As several members of the Rouhani cabinet, including Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, continue to utilize Facebook and other online social networking tools, millions of ordinary Iranians ask why they are not allowed access to the popular websites.
“Naturally, the police will confront any violations in these environments,” emphasized Zahedian, adding that the police protect citizens’ welfare and security. “In order to protect welfare of individuals and to prevent their entrapment in corruption and prostitution, the police will be present in this environment,” said Zahedian.
WeChat is a Chinese application that allows free online communication among users through audio, visual, and messaging capabilities. The application has more than 300 million users worldwide, but some features of the popular application pose security risks for its users. For example, the application has access to the user’s telephone directory, text messages, and geographical location information. According to the Guardian, Hu Jia, a Chinese human rights activist, was arrested after the Chinese government tapped his WeChat contacts and chat sessions. Hu Jia spent three years in prison. WeChat provides no data encryption services for its users and there are various reports about the ease of surveillance of users who use this software.
In the continuing public debate among Iranian officials over access to Facebook and Twitter, two social networking websites that are blocked to Iranian users despite their use by Iranian officials, Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, Secretary of the Work Group to Determine Instances of Criminal Content on the Internet, said yesterday that Facebook is an espionage website and no one has any doubts that it must be blocked. Asked whether the Work Group had received any requests from the Rouhani cabinet to unblock Facebook, he said, “No such request has been received to date.” Khorramabadi told Fars, “Considering the Supreme Leader’s explicit reference to Facebook’s effective role in the ‘2009 Sedition'”—referring to public protests following the disputed 2009 elections—”as well as warnings in this regard, issued by the esteemed Grand Ayatollahs, Ulama, and those who care about the regime, I doubt anyone is pondering the necessity of continuing the blocking of this website, posing such an inappropriate request.”
In fact, not only do several members of the Rouhani cabinet use Facebook, but the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance even said recently that he is a Facebook user himself and finds nothing wrong with the social networking tool, and expressed hope that Khorramabadi’s Work Group would unblock Facebook for the Iranian public.