Iranian Activists: Fight for Iran is Battle Over Access to Technology
many websites are filtered by the Iranian authorities
The insideIRAN.org project at The Century
Foundation and the National Security Network are convening a year-long advisory
task force comprised of North American, European, and Iranian participants,
well-connected either to their respective countries' policy-making on Iran or,
in the case of the Iranians, to civil society and the Green Movement. The group
aims to improve understanding of the political crisis inside Iran, particularly
the state of the regime and the opposition, and to focus attention on policy
steps that will be most effective in helping Iranians to reform their political
system without empowering the regime against either its own people or other
Executive Branch Recommendations
At the group's first meeting on February 19 in Washington, D.C., a number of
prominent Iranian activists focused the group's attention on the high importance
of information technology, and the regime's success in using it to limit and
control free expression and activism. They emphasized the important roles
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube play for Iranian dissidents to communicate with
each other and obtain information about events inside Iran, which are often
misrepresented in the country's state-run media. Yet, Western thinking about
sanctions and other actions that would help dissidents has not been focused in
this area-and, surprisingly, some Western companies are playing a role in
jamming and surveillance of the activists' communications.
The Iranian activists unanimously agreed that the United States should embark on
a clear policy to liberalize the power of digital technologies. At the same
time, they said they opposed more broad-based U.S. sanctions and expressed great
concern with moves intended to "help" the opposition that might give the regime
excuses to claim foreign interference and deepen an already repressive crackdown
on civil society. As a solution that would help the opposition without tainting
it, they recommended a list of measures that the U.S. government could undertake
in order to combat the coercive actions of the Iranian government while also
making it easier for Iranians to connect to the outside world through the
Internet and satellite television.
Increase Iranian Public Access to Unfiltered
- Sanction companies that assist the
Iranian government in Internet filtering, surveillance, and eavesdropping.
Support Tools that Allow Iranians to Communicate
Freely In and Outside Iran
- Provide Skype credits. This
Internet service allows Iranians inside the country to establish secure
means of communications with those outside the country. By purchasing Skype
credit, as low as $30 dollars, users would be able to contact the outside
world freely without fearing government's eavesdropping efforts.
- Build free, secure e-mail access for the
use of activists inside Iran. There is no major secure free e-mail in
Iran. Yahoo Mail provides very little security. Gmail provides more
security, but is still vulnerable to key loggers. The Iranian government
banned Gmail access recently, thus disabling access to Gmail's relatively
better e-mail services.
- Encourage/permit tech companies to
support Persian-language online advertising. This would give Iranians
abroad another private-sector tool to target those inside the country and
allow websites promoting human rights or help to distribute information to
make a small amount of advertising money needed in order for them to pay for
- Fund/permit Persian-fluent web
developers to partner in building websites for civil society. There is
a need for developers to build Persian websites. There are a number of web
developers outside Iran who have good command of Persian and are willing to
build such websites. Payment to such developers inside Iran can be capped at
$30,000 a year per organization in order to limit abuses.
Legislative Branch Recommendations
- Use Sanctions, Technology to Counter
Satellite Jamming The Islamic Republic sends jamming signals to
commercial satellites, disrupting their broadcasts. Many commercial
satellites are reluctant to host Persian- language television channels
fearing their satellites might get attacked. These satellites can be jammed
because uploads and downloads are sent on a fixed frequency. Newer
commercial and military satellites, however, are built to resist such
jamming with noise filtering and anti-jamming equipment.
- Levy sanctions on foreign and Iranian
companies actively involved in helping the Iranian government's satellite
jamming. Prominent Western satellite firms are helping the government
block Iranians' access to foreign news networks such as the BBC, VOA, and
German television, and providing satellite services to the Islamic Republic
of Iran's Broadcasting (IRIB), such as IntelSat and EUtelSat of France.
- Dedicate a hardened satellite to host
Iranian channels. This would enable effective Persian news services,
such as BBC Persian and Voice of America, to escape the Islamic Republic's
routine jamming efforts. This is one of the most important measures that can
be undertaken by the U.S. government in order to ease the free flow of
information to Iran.
- Facilitate the provision of high-speed
Internet via satellite. The regime deliberately has slowed the internet
to reduce the time in which Iranians can communicate and read the internet.
Making alternative satellites available-aside those used by the regime-could
allow Iranians to have high-speed Internet.
- Broadcast digital content via satellite
to millions of users in Iran. This is less expensive than the two-way
satellite connection discussed above. One-way content delivery would permit
the transmission of popular websites, such as YouTube, to users inside the
Increase Iranian Public Access to Unfiltered
- Exempt from sanctions export of
software, hardware, technology, and services to overcome the Iranian
government's means to block or filter internet access. Currently,
companies such as Microsoft and Google block downloads by Iranians, fearing
they might violate U.S. sanction laws. For example, GTalk and Google Earth
are not available to Iranian users. The government can easily access such
technologies through its proxies abroad, but citizens cannot.
InsideIRAN.org is a bi-weekly
journal of analysis and research written primarily by scholars and activists
living inside Iran and those who have recently left the country. Our purpose is
to provide in-depth information about the internal political dynamic that is
unavailable in the mainstream media. Through research and commentary, we will
continue to document the political and theological crisis.
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