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Iran law ‘will force tech firms to spy on citizens’

The Iranian government is mooting a new law that if passed would require foreign tech companies doing business there to “collaborate with the Islamic Republic in surveillance and censorship efforts,” say human rights groups.

Tech platforms and developers basing operations in Iran – already accused of using internet blackouts to cover up its lethal repression of nationwide protests in 2019 – would also be legally obliged to keep records of “big data and critical information inside Iran” pertaining to nationals of the pariah state.

An open-letter petition, signed by a consortium of human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Justice for Iran, said: “We are alarmed by the Iranian parliament’s move to ratify the general outlines of the draconian Regulatory System for Cyberspace Services Bill. If passed, the bill will violate an array of human rights of people in Iran, including the right to freedom of expression and privacy.”

The petition called upon the Iranian government to immediately rescind the bill, and for the international community to urge it to do so. It claims that if passed into law, it will further curtail access to foreign websites in Iran, violating the “right to access a secure and open internet.”

“Particularly alarming are provisions of the bill that place Iran’s internet infrastructure and gateways under the control of the country’s armed forces and security agencies,” said the letter.

The latest draft would put the Secure Gateway Taskforce in charge of portals connecting Iran to the worldwide web. The taskforce answers to Iran’s National Center of Cyberspace (NCC), which reports directly to the Supreme Leader – the Islamic state’s authoritarian religious ruler.

Furthermore, the taskforce would be staffed by military, intelligence and police officers drawn from the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Islamic Revolutionary Guards, and Ministry of Intelligence among other bodies – a sign of the Iranian state’s ever tightening grip on internet access.

“Delegating such control over the internet to entities that repeatedly commit serious human rights violations with complete impunity will have chilling effects on the right to freedom of expression in Iran,” said the petition.

“As documented by human rights organizations, Iran’s security forces, including the Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence, perpetrated gross violations of human rights and crimes under international law.”

These included “the unlawful use of lethal force, mass arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances and torture” to crush nationwide protests between 2017 and 2019.

“Alarmingly, passage of the bill will make internet shutdowns and online censorship even easier and less transparent,” said the petition. “Shutdowns not only constitute violations of the right to access information and freedom of expression, but also act as a tool to facilitate the commission and concealment of other gross violations.”

More than 3,000 civilians were killed and nearly 20,000 arrested during the November 2019 protests, according to a study published by Human Rights in Iran last month.

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