Iran Installs Surveillance Cams In Internet Cafes To Track Citizens’ Online Activity

By: EW News Desk Team   Date: 6 January 2012

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06 January 2012

Iranian authorities have implemented new guidelines for Internet cafes within the country– including the compulsory collection of detailed personal information on customers as well as their online activity – in an attempt to clamp down on Internet expression by its citizens.

According to the Wall Street Journal, cyber-cafes had been a “culture mainstay” in the country, with activist frequenting these joints in the belief that the security of their home Internet access had already been compromised.

The government’s latest initiative, as such, is seen to be just another method by authorities to monitor dissent in the country, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring.

"They want to execute a plan where no one has protection, so they can trace whoever is involved in what they perceive as antigovernment activity at any given moment and at any location," said Ehsan Norouzi, an Iranian cybersecurity expert who left Iran after 2009 and now lives in Germany.

"They are closing in on us, and we are already feeling the dire impact of these announcements. Everyone is afraid," added a prominent Iranian student activist in an email exchange with the Wall Street Journal. "It will make it very difficult for us to tell the world what's happening here."

The new guidelines mean that visitors to Internet cafes must now register their personal information, including their name, father's name, national ID number and telephone number, to cafe owners, who are required by law to keep this personal information and a record of the pages that their clients visit for six months. The cafe owners must also install surveillance cameras in their establishments and keep the recordings for six months. Furthermore, installing tools that allow people to access banned websites will also be illegal.

Cafe owners now have 15 days to implement the new measures, or government action could be brought against them.

According to Radio Zamaneh, the government’s attempts to control the Internet will culminate in a complete shutdown of the World Wide Web once the country launches its own Internet network. The government has already indicated that the National Internet could be launched as soon as by next month.

"With the launch of the national internet, the internet providers can increase the speed of access to their desired websites by two megabytes... however, it will be just like a corporate network, which cannot be accessed by outsiders, and some material cannot be accessed through that network,” said Payam Karbasi, the spokesman for Corporate Computer Systems of Iran.

Earlier this week, Iranian Internet users reported an increase to the amount of blocked sites, as well as new barriers to accessing social-networking services. Internet connections, too, have slowed down as the government prepares to transition into a “halal” domestic intranet.

In 2009, the Iranian government created the “Cyber Police”, a 250,000 member strong task force that attempts to fight what they say is a "soft war" of culture and ideology against the country. This came after, activists used the Internet to plan and document mass protests against what they said was a rigged election that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office in that year.

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