ARTICLE 19 has launched the first part of the ‘Tightening the Net‘ series, a report which explores Iran’s National Internet Project, analysing its history and development, its ramifications for freedom of expression online, and offering recommendations to the Iranian government, as well as private investors and technology companies that may be investing in digital development in Iran.
“Isolation of the clean Internet from the unclean portion will make it impossible to use the Internet for unethical and dirty businesses.” Reza Taghipour, Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology, 2009 – 2012
For years, there has been discussion amongst the Iranian Authorities of a ‘national’ or ‘clean’ Internet, while taking steps towards the completion of the ‘ National Internet Project’. This project aims to create a national, secure and ‘clean’ Internet, which would be hosted inside the country and have limited access to the content of the World Wide Web.
Content within the National Internet would be blocked or filtered according to political, cultural or religious criteria, and its users’ activity would be monitored.
It was planned that the National Internet Project would be fully implemented by the end of 2015, in three major phases:
- Phase one would separate the clean Internet from its international counterpart;
- Phase two (planned for completion by 2013) would relocate all Iranian websites to domestic hosts;
- Phase three, the final phase, would set up local management of the National Internet within the country, implying total access and control by the authorities.
Execution of this three-phase plan has already deviated considerably from expectations. From the onset, severe delays and disorganisation have plagued the already daunting task. According to the latest government budget proposal, full implementation of the National Internet Project is not expected before 2019.
However, there has been progress in certain areas of implementation, as an example, Iranian authorities celebrate the fact that 40 percent of the content visited by Iranian users is now hosted domestically.
There are numerous potential benefits of the development of domestic Internet infrastructures and Internet accessibility. The National Internet Project would consist of a number of elements, from national data-hosting, to a national search engine, email service and social network, as well as faster bandwidth, greater internet penetration, and a higher proportion of Farsi-language content.
The development of domestic Internet infrastructures may also move Iran towards the creation of a faster, more advanced telecommunications infrastructure within the country, with more Iranian users connected. Additionally, increased domestic data-hosting would minimise the risk of international surveillance and other security breaches.
Catalysts for the launch of a National Internet Project also included the imposition of a sanctions regime, escalations in cyber warfare (notably the Stuxnet incident), and information security, in which the government is highly interested. In addition, the project would be expected to reduce dependence on the World Wide Web, reducing foreign ability to exert control over connectivity.
(Source: Article 19, under Creative Commons licence)