Cyberattacks take place routinely in Iran and are on the rise. Most of the state-sponsored hacking reports CHRI has been receiving have increasingly
involved the interception of text messages. Critically, the hackers are using governmental technology infrastructure, namely, the IRGC-owned and controlled Telecommunications Company. As such, it is both within the capacity and the responsibility of the Iranian state to enforce the cessation of such unlawful attacks. Article 25 of Iran’s Constitution states, “The inspection of letters and the failure to deliver them, the recording and disclosure of telephone conversations, the disclosure of telegraphic and telex communications, censorship, or the willful failure to transmit them, eavesdropping, and all forms of covert investigation are forbidden, except as provided by law.”
Yet these cyberattacks are taking place within an environment of complete immunity. Even members of the Rouhani administration, and family members of cabinet members, have been targeted by cyberattacks, demonstrating that the hackers act at whim against any perceived “opponent.”
While Rouhani has publicly addressed many other politically sensitive issues such as corruption, women’s rights and even internet access, the president has yet to publicly address the hacking attacks. His silence is an abrogation of his responsibility as president for enforcing Iran’s Constitution and defending citizens’ rights to privacy. Despite the routine nature of these attacks there is no process or effective institutional mechanism whereby people can file complaints, seek redress, and hold the hackers accountable. In such an environment, civil society is defenseless against these attacks.
Moreover, Rouhani’s recent appointment of Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi as minister of information and communications technology bodes poorly for any administration efforts to address the hacking. Jahromi built parts of the massive state surveillance infrastructure that was used to facilitate the crackdown on the 2009 peaceful protests when he was in the Intelligence Ministry. Under Jahromi, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Communications Ministry will not do the bidding of the intelligence and security agencies.
The consequences of these hacking attacks can be catastrophic for the victims. Cyber espionage is being used as a tool for the Iranian judiciary; because the authorities cannot find evidence to legally prosecute the activists, dissidents, journalists and others whom they wish to target, they pursue private information unlawfully obtained through these attacks. They then use this information to prosecute these individuals in sham trials undertaken by a judiciary complicit in the denial of due process and violation of rights.