Khamenei consolidates control over internet policy
Recognizing the significant role of digital communication in Iran, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has increasingly sought to centralize control over the country’s internet policy under his authority.
Toward this end, Khamenei centralized decision-making power over the internet in Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace. This 27-member body, formed on March 8, 2012 on Khamenei’s orders, is chaired by Iran’s president, but because all its individual members and most of those who represent organizational entities are handpicked by the supreme leader, the president and others from his cabinet who serve on the council have a more marginalized role in it. Indeed, this move significantly restricted the power of the president and his administration over internet policy, whose current members include many who favor a less restrictive online environment.
In a further consolidation, in 2015, several of the institutions that had been involved in internet policy making in the country were dissolved by order of Khamenei and merged into the Supreme Council of Cyberspace. Among these3 were the Supreme Council of Informatics, which had been under the Management and Planning Organization; the Supreme Council of Information,4 which was responsible for the production, refining and exchange of information, and monitoring the dissemination of information throughout the country (under the Interior Ministry); and the Supreme Council of Information Exchange,5 which worked on various areas of vital systems security under Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri.
After the dissolution of these councils, their strategic, decision-making, monitoring and coordination responsibilities were transferred to the Supreme Council of Cyberspace. The only body remaining outside the council is the Supreme Council of Information Technology, which changed its name to the Executive Council of Information Technology. This council, which remained under Rouhani’s direct authority, is responsible only for implementing the policies and decisions made by the Supreme Council of Cyberspace. With the new institutional configuration, significant authority and power was taken from the executive branch and transferred to institutions that are either directly controlled by Khamenei, who views the internet as a threat, or to institutions close to him through appointees, with grave implications for internet freedom and privacy in Iran.