Iranian bill seeks to further restrict online freedoms

Social media is already heavily restricted in Iran, but a controversial censorship bill could stifle public debate even further.

With the Internet Protection Bill submitted to the Iranian parliament, ordinary Iranians are considering the possibility of losing what little free access they have to the Internet, which is heavily controlled and monitored by the state.

Since the early 2000s, Iran has blocked thousands of global social media websites and services. Iranians, however, are granted free access to a few remaining online platforms, including Instagram and Pinterest, which are currently licensed to operate in the country. The new bill also seeks to undermine it.

Here is a breakdown of the draconian internet restrictions in Iran.

No Youtube, no Twitter

Iranians, who have one of the strictest internet restrictions in the world, do not have direct access to popular social media apps like Netflix, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, Medium, and others. The Iranian government has imposed “SmartFiltering,” a system developed by a US company called Secure Computing Corporation despite Washington having imposed sanctions on Iran that prevent US companies from doing business with the predominantly Shiite country. In its defense, the company said Iran was using its software without permission. Saudi Arabia also uses the same filtering system.

The software introduced in 2014 was initially aimed at easing internet restrictions in the country by filtering only websites deemed “immoral” by the state while allowing access to other websites.

However, it blocks top international English-language websites including UK public broadcaster BBC.

The government quickly lifted the ban on Telegram, a popular messaging app in 2018 amid strong anti-government protests. The application has been blocked since 2009, despite the fact that former President Hassan Rouhani criticized this decision.

However, that did not mean a step towards free internet access. Iran’s National Cyberspace Center director Abolhassan Firoozabadi said last year that he sees China as a successful model. The Asian country has long been under fire from human rights organizations for its restrictive internet measures.

State suggests alternative apps, people find alternative solutions

The country’s authorities want to regulate the Internet by pushing alternative applications. In July of this year, a state-approved dating app Hamdam was unveiled to promote marriage. The launch of the app also criminalized the use of any other dating app in the country.

Circumstances, on the other hand, lead Iranians to be tech-savvy. Even though many social media apps and websites are banned, they stay connected to the world using virtual private networks (VPN) software that bypasses the restrictions.

According to the latest survey from the government-affiliated Iranian Student Survey Agency (ISPA), WhatsApp is the most used social network with 71% of participants using it despite being banned. Instagram and Telegram are the second most popular apps.

Other restrictions may be in progress

A bill entitled “Legislation to protect cyberspace users” could lead to further restrict Internet access in the country. The bill was introduced in parliament three years ago, but it is once again being pushed by die-hard conservative lawmakers. It demands that popular social media networks comply with Iranian rules on data ownership. If passed, Internet affairs which are now contemplated by the civilian government would be overseen by the Iranian armed forces.

The law can only be enforced if approved by the Council of Guardians of the Constitution. In accordance with the constitution, he would then be put on a probationary period before final approval by parliament.

Media giants are unlikely to appoint representatives in Iran, due to US sanctions, as well as the Financial Action Task Force (FAFT) blacklist to complete the required registration.

Hard-line supporter Ebrahim Raisi, who was sworn in as president on August 3, has previously said he supports a layered internet access system. Various criteria, including profession, would determine the level of Internet access.

If enacted, the bill would also criminalize the use of VPN services and ban government officials from having social media accounts that are not registered in the country.

However, many other politicians, including former reformist President Rouhani, who actively uses Instagram, and Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi have denounced the bill.

Civil opposition to the bill is also very important. Hashtags criticizing the bill occasionally find their way into Twitter trends, as hundreds of thousands of people sign a petition demanding repeal of the legislation.

According to ISPA, more than 50% of Iranians use Instagram. Iranians say banning the app would hurt not only rights and freedoms, but the economy as well. In the midst of the many rely on who was already

Source: TRT World

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