02202018Tue

Iran kicks off its internal internet with government email

Wall Street Journal: It’s no secret that Iranian authorities don’t trust or like the Internet. This week, the Islamic Republic inaugurated the national email. A government assigned email address linked to your social security number that makes it easy to trace users and monitor their communication. The Wall Street Journal

By Farnaz Fassihi

It’s no secret that Iranian authorities don’t trust or like the Internet.

This week, the Islamic Republic inaugurated the national email. A government assigned email address linked to your social security number that makes it easy to trace users and monitor their communication.

The minister of telecommunication and information technology, Mohamad Hassan Nami, even said on Tuesday that every Iranian “must” register for a nation email address upon entering elementary school. He added that official communication between government and citizens would eventually be redirected through the national email service.

Obtaining your own personal government-run email address, according to the minister, is as mandatory as having a Zip code.

Iranians can obtain their national emails through the state-run postal service. One must register online and fill out a lengthy form handing over personal information—date of birth, social security, home address, telephone number and so on.

Eventually there will also be a national Internet service, or what the government call “halal Internet’, which acts as a nation-wide intranet and could effectively cut Iran off from the world wide web if authorities deem fit.

This is all being presented to the public as a project aimed to increase the security of the Internet and protect users against foreign enemy and criminal hackers. Banks for example are now obliged to only accept their client’s email address if it’s through a domestic provider.

But the Internet has long been linked to politics in Iran.

During a political event, like an election or some sort of public discontent, the first casualty is often Internet access: speed slows down to a crawl; Gmail and other popular email services get disrupted and VPNs and proxies used to circumvent blocked websites won’t function.

In June, several weeks before Iran held presidential elections, all of this happened and then some. Iranian hackers launched an extensive phishing campaign to access the Gmail accounts of tens of thousands of Iranians and some journalists covering Iran—including this reporter.

A fake Google administrator sent a message asking users to go to a fake sign-in page and enter their username and password. Doing so would give Iran’s intelligence apparatus a free pass to spy on Gmail users communications

And for the first time, Mr. Nami, the minister, even admitted the government’s role in disrupting the Internet during the elections. Even though they had previously denied it.

“The reduction of the Internet speech was the result of security measures taken to preserve calm in the country during the election period,” said Mr. Nami, a week after the election to local media.

Iran’s new President-elect Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly said that he favors a government that respects citizen’s privacy and criticized meddling too much into the public’s personal affairs. Iranian Internet users, which make up about half of the 75 million population, may be looking to see if he can make good on those promises, starting with the Internet.

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