Sanctions, Protests, and Shutdowns: Fighting to Open Iran’s Internet
Last week, Iranians took to the streets nationwide in protest after an abrupt spike in fuel prices. As the protests grew, the government disrupted the internet across Iran in an apparent attempt to quell unrest. The slowdown was, for most, experienced as a full blackout of internet and mobile connectivity. The shutdown is in gross violation of Iran’s obligations to its citizens based on international treaties to which the country is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). EFF joins a number of Iranian and international organizations in expressing grave concerns over the internet blackout and violence against protesters.
A number of complicating factors have led to this shutdown. Renewed U.S. sanctions have exacerbated economic hardship for Iranians, and tech companies’ compliance—and at times over-compliance—with these sanctions has led to diminished reliance on international services (such as Amazon Web Services, Apple and Github outright prohibiting access to users in Iran). This trend has led to further isolation of Iranians from the global Internet.
As Mahsa Alimardani noted in her New York Times opinion piece, Iranian national technologies have been created and promoted in reaction to the banning of these apps and services, and aligned with the goals of at least some parts of the Iranian government. The domestic apps include Souroush (an app created by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting to supplant Telegram), as well as proposals for a state-created Virtual Private Network. The impact of this is a national Internet further centralizing services, pushing further censorship and surveillance, and making such an Internet shutdown feasible.
As of last Thursday, internet connectivity is being restored in parts of Iran. Wired reported on how the nationwide shutdown was achieved by the Iranian government. For an updated timeline of the shutdown, you can refer to Amir Rashidi’s tweets documenting internet service disruption beginning the evening of November 15, or follow conversations under the hashtags #Internet4Iran, as well as #KeepItOn, from Access Now’s project against internet shutdowns.