Iran’s total internet shutdown is a blueprint for breaking the web

The November 2019 shutdown showed, step by step, how Iran can cut itself off from the global internet

On November 15, 2019, the Iranian government sparked outrage. The cost of fuel in the country, officials announced, would increase drastically. The cost of the first 60 litres of fuel purchased each month would increase by 50 per cent. Higher volumes would jump 300 per cent.

People took to the streets. The resulting protests and violent government crackdown was the deadliest unrest in the country for more than 40 years. Security forces used water cannons, tear gas and batons as around 200,000 protestors expressed political tensions going far beyond fuel price increases. At times, the authorities opened fire on unarmed protestors.

It’s estimated that up to 1,500 people were killed and 4,800 injured in the protests. Around 7,000 people were arrested. UN officials and civil liberty groups condemned Iran’s “clear violations” of human rights laws and called for the immediate release of those detained.

But it wasn’t just the police on the streets cracking down on protestors. Online, Iran was unleashing one of the world’s most sophisticated internet shutdowns. With communication to the outside world blocked, abuses went unreported. The internet blackout remained in place across the whole country for six days and up to as much as ten days in areas where unrest continued. November 2019 wasn’t the first time Iran had shut down the internet – in fact, it wasn’t even the first time that year. But it was the longest and most sophisticated shut down ever attempted.

Now, new research from human rights organisation Article19 has revealed how officials were able to shut down connectivity for tens of millions of people and utilise an alternative ‘local’ version of the internet that’s been a decade in the making. It maps out Iran’s internet infrastructure and paints a picture of control that’s unlike anything anywhere in the world.

Internet shutdowns take many forms. They can involve [ … ]

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