Iran recently announced the completion of phase one in its plan to operate a “national Internet.” The ultimate goal is the creation of a national network isolated from the rest of the Internet. Currently, Iran blocks access to foreign social media, but Iranian residents are able to circumvent current blocking measures through the use of proxies and VPNs. The Iranian government has called the current system of Internet filters inefficient and believes that a domestic network will do a better job of promoting Islamic content raising digital awareness.
Iranian news agencies have extolled the benefits of the network. One outlet stated that the network offers “high quality, high speed” for “low costs.” It is also claimed that the network will provide greater security and offer protection from foreign cyber threats. Local news outlets also claim that the privacy rights of those using the network will be respected.
However, the network has drawn criticism from human rights groups. Article 19, a British human rights groups which focus’ on protecting the freedom of expression, has written a report arguing against the creation of an isolated network cut off from the rest of the world. The report states, “Implementation of the National Internet Project would make it easier for the government to block services, and would allow government forces to channel online activity in a way that is conducive to control and suppression.” It goes on to say, “This new National Internet, as a replacement for the World Wide Web, poses a threat to the emerging trend of ‘citizen journalism’ in Iran, as well as more traditional media and research activities.” It also states, “The National Internet Project risks severely isolating the Iranian people from the rest of the online world, limiting access to information and constraining attempts at collective action and public protest.”
This national network project was first announced in 2010 and was originally expected to be complete by 2015. The first phase, which is now said to be complete, offers access to online government services as well as domestic web pages. Phase two, which is expected to be complete by February 2017, will provide domestic video content. Phase three, which is supposed to be finished by March 2017, will add additional services and provide support for companies conducting international trade.
What do you think of this plan? Do you agree with Article 19? Share your thoughts in the comments below!