The sweeping internet outage in Iran is a serious cause for concern

The Iranian people took to the streets to demonstrate after fuel prices rose by as much as 300% overnight. New York times I mentioned at that time That “180 to 450 people, possibly more,” were killed during the four days of violence, and thousands more were injured and detained, most as the country plunged into digital darkness. Reuters In December 2019reported that 1,500 people were killed during a two-week period of unrest.
Now, some worry that history may repeat itself amid renewed civil unrest. Protesters poured into the streets in recent days after that maha aminia 22-year-old woman, who died while being held in Tehran prison morality police. Iranian officials claimed she had had a heart attack, but her family said she had no heart disease. “I have no idea what they did to her,” Her father, Amjad Amini, said: BBC Persia. “Everything is a lie.”

Mobile networks have largely been shut down, according to the internet watchdog Netblocks. Meta confirmed that Iranians are having trouble accessing some of its apps, including WhatsApp and Instagram. Although this is not a complete shutdown of the internet in 2019, tech experts say they see a similar pattern.

Doug Madhuri, director of Internet analysis at network intelligence firm Kentik, Inc. “I don’t think there is anything that would make us think this is accidental.” Share videos and communicate with the outside world.”

“The impact of these disruptions cannot be overstated,” said Alp Tucker, director of Netblocks. Earlier this week, Netblocks He said The Iranian people are now subjected to “the most severe restrictions online since the November 2019 massacre”.
Demonstrators protest against rising gas prices, on a highway in Tehran, Iran, November 16, 2019.

Toker said losing internet connectivity has become a “central fear engraved in Iranians’ minds, especially after 2019”. He added: “One of the most worrying things about the information blackout is that we do not even have a specific number of dead.” “Because what happens, in terms of human rights abuses, it becomes more difficult to document, compare and record abuses of power.”

human rights groups He says at least eight people were killed In the demonstrations so far, they are calling on the international community – and the technology sector in particular – to do more to support the Iranian people. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Friday Announcing the steps the US government was taking To remove some of the red tape related to sanctions and allow US technology companies to help the Iranian people access digital tools.

“We will help make sure that the Iranian people are not isolated and in the dark,” Blinken said. This is a concrete step to provide real support to Iranians to demand respect for their basic rights.

Time may be of the essence. Madhuri said that while the current internet blackout is “not as severe as November 2019,” there are concerns that it could eventually happen. “It’s still early – it’s too early to tell whether or not this will be bypassed.”

The wide range of power outages leaves few options to circumvent

Amir Rashidi, director of digital rights and security at the human rights organization Miaan Group, runs a resource center to help those in Iran deal with internet cuts. Al-Rashidi, a software developer who fled Iran more than a decade ago, said he and his team are helping to provide Iranians inside the country with technical tools, risk analysis tips, and training courses so that they can stay connected with each other even when the Internet goes offline. the government.

It is believed that Iranian officials are currently following a familiar pamphlet. “First, they shut down mobile data, which is complex enough to shut down even in a certain neighborhood,” he said. If the protests continue to grow, he said, “then they start expanding the internet shutdown, step by step”. In the end, he said, “They shut down completely and shut down everything.”

But even as now, the options for overcoming an internet outage are limited.

Dozens staged a demonstration to protest the killing of a 22-year-old woman held in Tehran, Iran, on September 21, 2022.

“So far, they’ve shut down mobile data and made it really difficult to work with a home calling landline,” Al-Rashidi told CNN Business. “It’s very slow, with a lot of throttling, so it’s hard to work on a landline as well.”

As Madhuri says, “If your phone doesn’t have mobile service or mobile data, you can’t have it.”

Netblocks’ Tucker said the methods for restricting and disrupting the internet are so diverse that even more advanced tools to circumvent blackouts are becoming more and more difficult to use. For those who still have fixed line connections, “a VPN or the Tor network may be useful,” Tucker added. “Although these are restricted by the authorities, so they are far from reliable.”

“The only real option during a complete disconnect is to document things offline in the hope that when you go back online you can timestamp it and distribute it, as evidence of human rights violations, for example,” Toker said.

Some are now calling on the tech industry to do more to help.

Meta-owned WhatsApp, for example, has He said “You will do anything within our technical ability to keep our services up and running.” Al-Rashidi praised Meta for being “helpful”, but called on technology companies and international organizations to do more to reach the Iranian people directly, and help them preserve their rights.
Signal is an encrypted messaging app Public help request In setting up “a proxy server that will enable people in Iran to connect to Signal” amid a power outage.

Al-Rashidi also criticized billionaire Elon Musk, who recently tweeted that a satellite broadband service, Starlink, would seek a waiver of sanctions to provide internet in the country. “I know what is realistic and what is not, and I don’t think Elon Musk is serious,” Al-Rashidi said.

Despite the fear looming over his homeland now amid the protests and internet outages, Al-Rashidi sees no reason for hope. He feels the spirit of these protests, which are “led by women,” is different from the upheavals of the past.

“I see more people united,” he said. Whatever the outcome of these protests, we are moving into a new chapter in Iran.”

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