For the masses in repressive regimes like Iran, the Internet represents the last bastion of freedom of expression—but not for long.
Early this year, Iran announced its plan to create a cyber army, 25,000 strong, to strengthen state control of the Internet. But why should the Iranian government waste its time controlling and filtering the Internet when it can create its own? Scratch the World Wide Web—here comes the Iranian Wide Web.
While Iran was once a leader in Internet access in the Middle East—it was the first Muslim nation in the region to jump online—it has since become no stranger to the suppression of Internet freedom. Recently, for the second time in a row, Freedom House gave Iran’s Internet access a rating of “Not Free,” and Reporters Without Borders listed the country as an “Internet Enemy.” Yet this latest move on the part of Iran takes its notorious state Internet control another step—or rather leap—further.
Iran’s “national Internet” will follow the path laid out by countries such as Cuba, Myanmar, and even North Korea, all of which have moved to create an intricate web of dual service. In Cuba, for instance, while tourists and government officials can still access the global Internet, citizens are confined to a closed, monitored, limited access network. According to Iranian news agencies, 60 percent of the country will soon be connected to this new internal network, with the whole nation following suit within the next two years.
In February, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to preserving Internet freedom throughout the world. More recently, the State Department announced that it had allocated all of the $50 million that had been appropriated for its activities to promote Internet freedom throughout the world. Iran’s recent actions, however, should prompt the U.S. government to consider whether these actions are sufficient.