Iran has long said it would replace or supplement the country’s Internet access with a closed, “halal,” intranet. Such a network, cut off from the rest of the world and thoroughly monitored by the government, has long seemed unfeasible and absurd.
But U.S. security officials have seen new evidence that the closed network, which includes government, business, and university sites, appears to be fully functional, the Washington Post reported Friday.
On one hand, a “halal intranet” is a potential nightmare for the idea of Iranian Internet freedom. Citizens will be cut off from the Web at large, disconnecting them from every other country, and their government would have enormous power to monitor their activity.
But it’s easy to see why Iran’s ruling elite thinks the system would increase national stability. The country, considered an “Enemy of the Internet” by an annual Reporters Without Borders study, already imprisons bloggers who criticize the state. According to a New York Times investigative report earlier this year, the U.S. successfully attacked Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities through the Internet, via a worm called Stuxnet.
Members of the U.S. Congress, when justifying their calls for new, potentially privacy-threatening cybersecurity laws, often refer to a potential “cyber 9/11,” where a foreign agent could threaten vital American infrastructure using a tool similar to Stuxnet.
Iran has a long history of tailoring Internet infrastructure to quash dissent. Reporters Without Borders has called the country a “master” at tactics like slowing the Internet to a snail’s pace during times of political tension. On Sept. 11, the government announced it was blocking Google’s Gmail and introducing a new, government-controlled email service. An Iranian official told the Wall Street Journal that the block, rather than an act of censorship, was meant to increase public confidence in the Iranian government.
Iranian officials said in August that they hoped to have the intranet functioning by the end of September.
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