Waging Cyber War in Iran

The author, Omid Memarian, is discussing steps taken by the Obama administration to “provide Internet freedom to Iran.” From an outside perspective this may sound like a wonderful idea, but Memarian begs to differ. He points to two factors which the US has not taken into account. “Iran already has the upper hand and the current approach is dangerous to activists and focuses on too few people.”

Memarian says that while he was a journalist in Iran, he and other active bloggers were arrested in 2004. This was the first move against internet activists posting against the authoritative government of Tehran.  Since then the State Department has pledged to spend upwards of $70 million on “circumvention efforts and related technologies.” Anything that would help the internet users in Iran gain some freedom in their activities and in hope of spreading dissident. One major project planned is the so-called “Internet in a suitcase”, which would provide activists with mobile gadgets to access the internet and gain access to sites that are usually blocked by the government. While this may sound like an interesting move, Memarian states that such a move would just hurt the population. He expresses the dangers of being caught with such a suitcase. For the perpetrator, this would end with charges of espionage against the state; a serious offense under authoritarian rule.

While it may look good on paper, putting it into practice would just be a dangerous decision. Especially since the Obama administration made it public. Given that only 38% of the population is connected to the internet, and then in most cases with dial-up, using the internet to spread information may not work as planned. Instead, Memarian says, the US should fund programs that would allow the Iranian population to get around the television signal jammers that the Iranian government has in place. These jammers block channels that could provide the population with important outside information, from channels such as the Voice of America Persia and BBC.

While demonstrations in 2009 were started using social networks, the use of these in countries that are heavily underdeveloped will not be as effective as in an internet-savy widespread citizen base as in a western country. Memarian states the obvious in saying that the “plan to change the Iranian Web landscape is simply not realistic.” Reaching out to the population will have to be done in ways that will not endanger the activists that risk their lives to provide information to the general public. It is especially dangerous to spread information when, as Memarian points out, only 38% is connected to the internet, when many more own a television set. The US will have to rewrite their policy towards Iran before making decisions that could endanger thousands.

Originally article can be found here.


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