Iranian Official Threatens “Restrictions” on Social Media Networks That Reject State Censorship Policies
A senior official representing Iran’s top internet regulation body has threatened to take action against social media applications that refuse to comply with the country’s strict censorship rules.
“Foreign messaging networks should comply with the polices of the Islamic Republic of Iran and should not publish immoral material,” said Abolhassan Firouzabadi, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme Cyberspace Council (SCC), on November 14, 2017. “If they cooperate with us, there won’t be any problem. Otherwise, we will move towards introducing restrictions against them.”
The SCC creates and oversees state internet policy in Iran.
Firouzabadi, who was speaking at the 11th Digital Media Exhibition in Tehran, also advised journalists to open an account with social media apps created by state-approved developers as backup “in case we are forced to impose restrictions on foreign social media.”
For years, Iranian officials have been trying, unsuccessfully, to convince the CEO of the Telegram messaging application—used by 40 million Iranians according to Telegram—to shut down channels containing “immoral content” or content critical of state policies.
A few hours after Firouzabadi made his threat, access to Telegram in Iran was blocked for several hours, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned. Iranian-produced messaging apps, such as Mobogram, experienced no problems during that period.
On November 15, Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi told reporters he did not know why Telegram went down.
“Last night around midnight, I received some messages and then I checked and noticed that contact could not be made [with Telegram],” Jahromi told reporters. “We were not the cause of the network problems. I don’t know what caused it. I have asked my staff to look into it.”
Net Neutrality in Iran
The telecommunications minister has approved the state policy of offering financial incentives for people who use messaging services created by domestic developers. On November 13, Jahromi announced Iranians would get a 30 percent discount on their internet bill if they used state-approved social media networks.
The discount offer violates net neutrality rules, which oppose discrimination and interference in the flow of information.
“Net neutrality requires that the internet be maintained as an open platform, on which network providers treat all content, applications and services equally, without discrimination,” according to the Global Net Neutrality Coalition.
Responding to an internet security expert on the definition of net neutrality on Twitter, Jahromi tweeted on November 13 that in the documentation on Iran’s domestically produced and heavily censored internet, the National Information Network, “Net Neutrality has been underlined as a principle.”
The document he was referring to makes no mention of net neutrality.
In trying to control or censor foreign social media networks, Iranian state organizations have also been trying to convince the CEO of Telegram, Pavel Durov, to install the application’s servers in Iran to enable the security establishment to monitor and manipulate online content and user activity.
According to Article 2 of the Regulatory Policies and Actions for Social Messengers, ratified by the SCC on August 7, 2017 , all foreign social media networks must store domestic traffic data inside Iran and have a representative based in Tehran to operate in the country.