Iran: Tightening the Net 2020

After Blood and Shutdowns

Internet shutdowns are a serious violation of international human rights standards. 

They restrict people from sharing vital information quickly and easily.  They obstruct journalists from monitoring events and reporting violence, and they disrupt protests. 

Government ordered Internet shutdowns are fast becoming a key tactic to disconnect people from each other and to prevent us from scrutinising our governments’ actions. 

During nation-wide protests in November 2019 Iran’s government cut off the Internet for over 80 million people.  As the shutdown continued the authorities attacked and killed hundreds. 

Since then, the Iranian government has continued to shut down the Internet every time protests take place. Iranians are increasingly anxious that the authorities will prevent them from accessing vital information by cutting off their access to the global Internet. 

In our latest report, Tightening the Net 2020: After Blood and Shutdowns, ARTICLE 19: 

  1. Reveals the complex infrastructure and the opacity in decision making processes that have allowed the Iranian government to repeatedly shutdown the Internet whenever they choose.  
  2. Examines the role US sanctions have played in isolating Iranians
  3. Considers the outlook for Internet governance and connectivity in Iran
  4. Outlines clear solutions to address this problem.

What happened during the events of November 2019?

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How can the Iranian government shut down the Internet for over 80 million people?

The creation of the National Information Network

Contrary to popular belief, there was no centralised “switch off” from the global internet.  

Instead, the scale and length of Iran’s November shutdowns were the result of a  government serving each Internet Service Provider  (ISP) direct orders to disconnect their users from international traffic.

Explore the images below to learn more about how Iran has effectively created a ‘national’ Internet.
(Hover over the images to use the zoom function)

Figure A1.1: A map of Iran’s Internet infrastructure at the time of the Internet shutdowns – November 2019.The five gateways that peer to international connections are the three blue nodes and two orange nodes at the center of the graph.AS34837 and AS35285 of IPM (also in orange) do not peer to international connections despite being part of the network.
Figure A1.2: The main connections to international peers (see Annex 2 for full methodology). It’s important to note that while peerings have become deentralised, or independent of the TIC and IPM, the physical terrestrial or submarine cables enabling these peerings are still operated by the TIC (or state authorities).
Figure A1.3: Smaller “first layer” connections. These are ISPs that
are directly connecting to international gateways.

 The Role of US Sanctions

The US’s Maximum Pressure policy prevents Iran from engaging in international trade. 

This has played right into Iranian government propaganda about Iranian “vulnerability to outside forces”.  

And it has  pushed Iranian developers and websites onto the National Information Network. 

This closed Internet system means that people and the private sector are restricted from accessing the global Internet.  

In short, US sanctions are further isolating people in Iran.

Who was responsible for the shutdown?

There has been no judicial oversight of 2019’s shutdown. 

Even in the context of Iran’s complex governance structures, it is still unclear precisely who ordered the blackout. 

Our report calls on Iran to all document all Internet governance and decision making with complete transparency. 

(Hover over the image to use the zoom function)

What are the implications for the future of digital rights and freedom of expression in Iran?

The National Information Network doesn’t guarantee anonymity, privacy or data protection. Rather, authorities may filter or censor content based on political, cultural or religious criteria. 

Net neutrality is undermined, diversity of content is severely reduced, and people are prevented from freely exchanging information.

In the event of future protests, the government can shutdown the Internet again, preventing Iranians from coming together and from accessing international news. 

And, as we have already seen, future shutdowns mean that the murder of innocent people will happen again and could escalate unchecked.

Calls to Action

ARTICLE 19 recommends the following actions and solutions for Iran, the EU, the US, and Tech Companies:

Stopping Internet shutdowns and keeping people safe during protests means that we can protect Iran’s economy and people’s lives.