In Iran, technology to keep the mullahs in power

Blocking the web, facial recognition, development of a parallel internet… Faced with the revolt of its population, the Islamic Republic has understood that it will not survive without strengthening its grip on information technologies.

Technology plays an essential role in the revolts in Iran, on the side of the protesters as well as the government. Since September 16 and the murder of Mahsa Amini by the morality police, tens of thousands of people continue to take to the streets. They get organized with messaging apps like Telegram. They inform themselves with censorship circumvention tools, such as VPNs or Tor.

Read also: In security, technology invites itself at all levels

The population had already relied on the same types of tools during the uprisings of 2009 and 2018. These events gave Tehran time to perfect its counter-offensive. It is based on three pillars:

  • Internet blocking: the government has set up a system unique in the world to quickly close access to the web and deprive demonstrators of their means of organization.

  • The National Information Network: this giant intranet, deployed on a national scale, is controlled by the State. Ultimately, it is intended to replace the Internet.

  • AI facial recognition: the scale of the deployment and the technology used are still unknown.

Why is this worrying. Iran, but also China or Russia… Authoritarian regimes are refining their use of technology to control information and track their fellow citizens. They use their surveillance tools in public spaces as well as in the virtual world.

Celebrated during the Arab Spring as a means of emancipation, will information technologies on the contrary strengthen the hold of dictatorships? Has the tool of liberation turned into a prison? For anyone interested in these questions, Iran is a worrying laboratory.

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