Iran’s Internet Censorship: New infographic illuminates administrative maze

//CGCS sat down with Amy Brouillette, a researcher for the Iran Media Program (IMP), to discuss the process of creating the IMP’s recently published infographic on Internet censorship in Iran.

The IMP’s recent infographic has shed new light on how Iranian authorities regulate the Internet, a topic often obscured by a lack of transparency regarding the roles and powers of the different bodies involved. The graphic maps the relationships between four new bodies that make up Iran’s post-2009 Internet censorship apparatus, which have been introduced as part of the state’s effort to bolster its cyber defenses in response to its “soft war” with the west.

Amy Brouillette worked with a variety of sources and organizations, including Toronto-based ASL-19 and London-based Small Media, to research the bodies and the different ministries involved in Internet censorship, as well as to map out the relationships between these bodies. The infographic was designed in collaboration with a graphics team at Brooklyn-based Hyperakt.

As Brouillette explains, the idea for creating an infographic came as she was researching Internet censorship in Iran and discovered a need organize the complex maze of bodies and ministries involved in Internet censorship, particularly those that have appeared since the state’s crackdown on cyber activities following the disputed 2009 elections. “Although Iran has one of the more sophisticated Internet censorship systems in the world, it’s also notoriously de-centralized, evolving in an ad hoc, almost chaotic way,” she says, with a range of different bodies having wide, overlapping powers to filter and shut down websites. “There has been a progressive attempt by hardliners to formalize and centralize Internet censorship—legally, institutionally and technologically—in an effort to control online communications and to combat pervasive circumvention.”

Since 2009, authorities have introduced a new set of bodies responsible for Internet filtering and monitoring—including a new filtering committee, the Cyber Army and the Cyber Police. According to Brouillette, the creation of the Supreme Cyberspace Council (SCC) in the spring of 2012 marked a key shift in Iran’s broader Internet governance system. The SCC is an attempt to create a “centralized command center” for Iran’s Internet policy, says Brouillette, which raised questions among observers as to what this body’s roles and powers would be and how the body would interact with the existing filtering committee and other monitoring organs, she says.

With the help of various sources and organizations, Brouillette began to research these new censorship bodies, including their members and how they are appointed. “The point was to try to get a clearer picture of what specific ministries and figures are directly involved in censoring the Internet, their roles and powers, who they are accountable to, and how these bodies are inter-connected,” she says.

Brouillette and her team decided to produce this information graphically because “a visual presentation allows us to see how these different bodies interact and sometimes overlap, as well as where the different points of state intervention impact web traffic.” In addition, Brouillette says that they wanted to highlight the complexity of Iran’s Internet censorship system, which is “inherently hierarchical” but is also “more dynamic and complex than the classic bureaucratic system, where each body has distinct roles and powers.”

As CGCS Director Monroe Price explains, “The bureaucracy of informational management in Iran is astonishingly complex.  Our infographic is an attempt to picture it–to show the links in structure and the institutions that collectively exercise control.”

Brouillette also studied reports on Iranian Internet censorship by numerous monitoring groups, including those conducted by Open Net Initiative, which focus on the more technological aspects of web filtering in Iran. She worked with technology expert and IMP consultant Collin Anderson to map out information on web traffic and the specific points of intervention by bodies that directly impact Internet users, as well as where Internet users bypass state filtering. “Despite heavy state censorship, Iran has one of the most active online communities in the region, and circumvention around censorship is common. We added the circumvention element in order to show that this is not a ‘closed’ system,” she said.

Click here for full infographic:

Internet Censorship in Irancropp

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