CHRI – Internet hosting companies in Iran must cease providing services to filtered websites based in the country, according to an order issued by the deputy prosecutor general in charge of cyberspace, Javad Javidnia, on August 31, 2019.
The Iranian government had previously turned a blind eye to hosting companies that were servicing blocked websites in Iran; people based in the country accessed them using online censorship circumvention tools.
But now the banned websites—including sites containing censored news and information about political and human rights issues—must move their content to foreign hosting companies or go offline.
“Based on Article 751 of the Islamic Penal Code regarding internet crimes, companies providing hosting services are required to abstain from offering any kind of service to websites that have been filtered in the country,” said the order issued by the deputy prosecutor general.
The internet and social media apps are heavily censored in Iran. According to the Statistical Center of Iran, 64 percent of Iranians above six-years-old had access to the internet in the Iranian calendar year of 1396 (ended March 20, 2018).
As a result of the increasing number of Iranians with internet access, state policies and technical initiatives have increasingly focused on strengthening state control over cyberspace.
“In addition to ceasing all services to such websites, the hosting companies should also cancel any contract they may have signed with them,” the order stipulates. “Any company that violates this order will be prosecuted in accordance with the law.”
The order did not indicate any specific punishment for companies that fail to comply. It also did not specify whether the order applies to all filtered websites or only those banned by state agencies (websites can also be temporarily taken offline pending private disputes).
The order forces filtered sites to seek hosting services based abroad, but this will be difficult due to U.S. sanctions that block financial transactions with Iranian individuals or entities.
“You might not know it, but Amazon runs basically half the internet on their cloud platform,” tweeted American IT systems expert and National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Snowden’s tweet referred to AWS web services, one of the largest hosting providers in the world.
“Now they’re cutting off the lifeline of Iran’s liberal opposition in a misguided attempt to please—far beyond what the law requires—one of Amazon’s biggest customers: the US Government,” he added.
In a similar move, major American cloud infrastructure provider Digital Ocean stopped providing services to Iran-based clients in January 2019.