By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
TEHRAN, Iran – On Wednesday, 7 March, Ayatollah Ali Kahamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, created the Supreme Council of Virtual Space to oversee the domestic and international internet usage. Iran’s state television reported Ayatollah Khamenei declared he was “establishing a center of national virtual space to define policy and co-ordinate and make decisions regarding virtual space.”
Reporters Without Borders, a free-speech lobby group, noted that Iran has blocked websites and filtered keywords to censor the internet. However, the formation of this council is Iran’s strongest initiative to regulate the internet.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will head the council composed the president of the parliament, the head of Iran’s judiciary, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, the director of Iran’s broadcasting organization, the minister of information, and the commander of the Revolutionary Guard.
Ayatollah Khamenei’s degree stated the council will protect the country from “harm” resulting from “the increasing spread of information and communication technologies, particularly that of the global internet network and its important role in personal and social life.” The council is also “responsible for safeguarding national and cultural values,” ensuring “safety of the internet,” and taking “measures to deal with challenges facing the national security and cultural values.”
Iran has previously tackled two particular cyber threats: computer viruses and “cultural invasion”.
Ayatollah Khamenei stated Iran will develop internet tools like Google to protect national security interests and so Iranians would not need to visit websites managed outside Iran. In January, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, Iran’s police chief, described Google as an “instrument of espionage.” In June, Iran plans to release its own search engine called “Yahaq” (meaning “Oh Lord”).
In 2010, the Revolutionary Guards created a “cyber army” to fight “destructive” networks. The “cyber army” arrested hundreds of internet users. The courts sentenced some of these users to death. Iran also relies on special teams to execute “soft-war” counter-measures against the West.
Iranian authorities have blocked telephone lines and inducted internet slowdowns or disconnections during their recent increase of their surveillance and restrictions on the internet. The authorities intensify their internet control specifically during times of political unrest.
Now, people must give their full names and show their identification to use an internet café monitored by the Iranian authorities.
This week, 30 million Iranians could not log into their Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail accounts. An Iranian news agency credited Iran’s actions to prevent opposition against the upcoming celebration of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
For further information, please see:
Sydney Morning Herald – Iran’s Leader Sets Up Internet Control Group – 8 Mar 2012
BBC – Iran’s Supreme Leader Sets Up Body To Oversee Internet – 7 Mar 2012
Haartetz – Ahmadinejad Heads New Council To ‘ Safeguard’ Iranian Internet Values – 7 Mar 2012
Iran Focus – Iran Considers Cyberspace Council – 7 Mar 2012