Avoiding the Traps of Covering Freedom Online in Iran

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Session Description

"In order to shed light in the multiple ways the capacities and actions of various actors influence each other, this discussion will explore, in what ways does US foreign policy (alongside that of other western countries) and Iran’s policies of Internet controls interact in a relational entanglement? In order to understand this, this talk will firstly investigate the narrative of ‘Internet freedom’ used by the diaspora community and advocacy organizations. The project will then critically look at how the community focused on Iran mobilizes different resources such as digital security, educational materials and circumvention tools to target and aid Iranians in utilizing the Internet. Furthermore, the actions of this community will be discussed in the ways in which the Iranian government and the community of Internet users inside of Iran conceive of the products and aid of this community.

While we talk about these issues as “internet freedom” certain actors inside of Iran paint this community and their work as one engaged in a “soft war.” Understanding this relationship, with the antagonisms and risks involvedis a relevant discussion at a political juncture when Iran is increasingly trying to integrate back into the international scene post-nuclear deal."

Avoiding the Traps of Covering Freedom Online in Iran
Presenter/s Mahsa Alimardani
Bio/s Mahsa has been doing research and work on Internet controls, policies and digital security in Iran for the past 4 years. She is currently finishing her Research Masters degree in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam while doing research with DATACTIVE. She is also the Iran editor for Global Voices.
Language English

Session Comments

Session Notes

Shawn Powers & Michal Jablonski - “silicon triangle” - U.S. government’s relationship with Silicon Valley helps cement power

Quote from Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age, 2013

Leading Internet Freedom Technology (LIFT), Samantha Powers

Effects of accepting US govt money for programs - pros and cons

“Soft War” - a general resistance towards the Iranian regime

After the 2009 green Movement, Iman Sadegh University published 9 books on this war e.g. country exporting its culture and ideology - Joseph Nigh in Foreign Policy

Iran’s reaction to US Affiliated Projects

- arrests of nonpolitical entities, such as “Narenji” tech bloggers - arrest of Arash Zad - arrest of Nizam Zakka - Iranian hardline media weaves conspiracy theory

Some speak of a “grand conspiracy of internet freedom programs trying to create change and take over Iran"

Iran’s "Offensive Internet Strategy”

- National Information Network

   - Hope to locally host all internet content
   - More Iranians using it
   - More an intranet
   - Distinct from a "halal internet"
   - Using 10 range of networks, bias for domestic web sites
   - Faster to get domestic content
   - Positive sides - move government within its borders - for example, Brazil doing it, too
   - Enhance it’s national data

- Ankaboot (or spider) - Iranians warned they’re being monitored - Combatting American platforms

How do you attain the trust of people when accepting money from the United States - when those people may be victims of United States policy

One person explains she definitely feels conflicted but also believes they can do some good

Has U.S. funding for such projects made any difference? If it were finished, would it have an impact

Speaker believes there are USG-funded projects which are making a difference - e.g Whisper, Tor

Often their is discussion of the app but not its actual use on the street

Very difficult to quantify usage, especially as people need to remain anonymous

U.S. isn’t only funder to anger the Iranian gov’t - also European countries and organizations, Swedish gov't

Don’t want to overgeneralize how other countries act - or how Iranian gov’t reacts