CHRI – A majority of Iranian lawmakers have signed a letter calling for a ban on foreign social media apps to support state-led efforts to drive Iranians toward using state-approved domestic alternatives.
The letter was published the same week President Hassan Rouhani lifted the ban on the widely used Telegram messaging app.
“In order to protect the political and cultural independence of the country and prevent assaults against the security and privacy of citizens … we, the representatives of the people, strongly urge the heads of the three branches of state to support the replacement of foreign messaging services with domestic ones,” said a letter signed by 170 of Iran’s 290 members of Parliament on January 16, 2018.
Used by an estimated 40 million Iranians, Telegram was inaccessible for two weeks amid nationwide internet disruption on order of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) amid the anti-government protests that broke out across dozens of Iranian cities on December 28, 2017.
Rouhani lifted the ban following a decision by the SNSC, which he chairs, on January 13, 2018.
According to the Kalame news site, the MPs’ letter, addressing President Rouhani, Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, was drafted by Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a conservative MP from the city of Qom.
The letter accused foreign social media networks of promoting violence and drug use, as well as playing a role in the recent protests and the terrorist attack on Iran’s Parliament in June 2017.
The MPs also called for tighter controls on virtual private networks (VPNs), which are used by millions of Iranians to circumvent online state censorship.
In March 2012, the government of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered the state-owned Telecommunications Infrastructure Company of Iran (TICI) to block all foreign VPNs and develop a “legal VPN” within a month. But five months later, the company admitted that it was unable to implement the plan.
“We were asked to offer a legal VPN to companies and the people but despite spending billions of tomans [millions of dollars] to promote this project, no one embraced it,” said TICI director Mahmoud Khosravi in August 2012. “Only 26 companies signed up.”
Private and state-linked companies in Iran have undertaken major efforts to develop domestic messaging apps primarily based on open-source foreign copies.
The Soroush messaging app, which was developed by the state broadcasting organization, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), was built on Linphone, a free program that allows users to use its codes to customize their app.
Another Iranian-made messaging app, Hotgram, which is based on Telegram’s open-source codes, functioned without problems while Telegram was blocked during the recent protests in Iran. The app checks subscribers’ requests to access content on Telegram channels and blocks channels that are banned by Iranian censors.
But Iranians have shown little interest in using domestic-made apps due to their lack of functionality and security features. Iranians have also rejected the apps’ built-in privacy violations.