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“We believe that if these entities lose their access to the Internet, it will be harder for them to do business,” said Nathan Carleton, UANI’s communications director. He pointed to the group’s successful campaign to force the international money transfer communication network Swift to stop doing business with Iran as the model for the current effort aimed at Internet domain providers. Swift’s willingness to stop serving Iranian financial institutions was cited by experts as one of the reasons for the collapse of the Iranian currency and for the difficulties Iran’s economy is now facing.
Some critics fear that limiting Iran’s Internet access, if done in broad brush strokes, could infringe on the Iranian people’s Internet freedom. UANI has made clear it is not seeking to prevent Iranians from reaching out to the world through the Web. “We fully support Internet freedoms and access to all parties,” Wallace wrote in his letter. The group stressed that it was seeking to enforce the law that prevents companies in the United States and the EU from doing business with Iranian entities that are on the sanctions lists, and that it does not intend to go after any other Internet users in Iran.
But even this modest goal has yet to bare fruit.
RIPE NCC issued a statement saying that the group did not believe it was violating any law by providing domain registration for the Iranian entities and that it promised to further examine the issue. ICANN has yet to respond.
UANI, Carleton said, is prepared to reach out to members of these companies’ governing boards, if needed, and even to take legal action. The group believes that public pressure can play an important role in convincing businesses to comply with Iran sanction laws.
But blocking Iranian-sanctioned entities from the Web could come at a cost to Western intelligence efforts.
“Hidden from the public are the efforts that Western intelligence agencies are making to keep abreast of everything the Iranians are doing, especially in the nuclear field,” said Dan Raviv, co-author of “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars,” a recent book that looks into clandestine operations led by Israel’s Mossad. Raviv, a veteran CBS news correspondent, said that a lot of spying and infiltration activity is done from afar, including some of the successful efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program by inserting computer viruses. “Keeping Iran on the World Wide Web would, on balance, be useful to the CIA, the Mossad and other spies trying to slow down the Iranian program,” Raviv said.
In fact, the regime in Tehran, aware of these considerations, has embarked on its own move to disconnect the Islamic Republic from the World Wide Web. On September 22, the Iranian government announced its intention to create an intranet service that would bypass the global Internet and isolate Iran from Internet spying and also from access to content coming from outside the country. As a first step, the government said it would cut off access to Google and to Gmail, and that government agencies will be put on the internal national net within days. Iranian citizens are to be connected to the intranet in the second phase of the program.
Iran already has tough limits on Internet access and has been filtering content for years. A recent report by an international commission on Internet availability found that only 21% of Iranians have any kind of access to the Internet.
Contact Nathan Guttman at firstname.lastname@example.org