Iran’s online blackouts show why governments shouldn’t control the internet
January 24, 2020
This article was originally published in Center Square on January 16, 2020.
If you need a reason why it’s not a good idea to give control of the internet to the government, take Iran as Exhibit A.
As citizens demanded answers about a Ukrainian airliner that crashed during the period Iranian troops were firing on American military bases in Iraq, blackouts restricted Iranians’ internet access. After Iran finally admitted to accidentally shooting down the plane, the government looked to tamp down protests by blocking online access.
The Globe Post reported that a website that tracks web connections found cuts to Iran’s international internet access over the weekend. NetBlocks reported a drop in connectivity at Sharif University in Tehran on Monday, ahead of planned demonstrations.
The Globe Post also noted that Iran has been a serial inhibitor of internet freedom, eliminating all online access during four days in November during citizen protests of gas price increases and disrupting services again in December before more planned demonstrations.
“Certainly, this disruption of services has been a major blow to both the people and the businesses,” Minister Mohammad Azari-Jahromi said of the internet blackouts in November, “but maintaining the security of the country is very important.”
Iranians fear a permanent internet blackout could occur, especially given that the country’s officials have discussed the idea of an intranet within the borders that would isolate Iran from the global World Wide Web. That’s a system already used in the oppressive North Korea – and even then, only the privileged are allowed access.
President Donald Trump urged Iran to keep access alive this week, tweeting that the government should allow human rights groups in the country to monitor and report about the ongoing protests.
“There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown,” Trump said. “The world is watching.”
Yet in the United States, Democrats have sought to hand control of the internet to the government, claiming that internet service providers (ISPs) can’t be counted on to maintain a fair system of net neutrality.
Much doom and gloom was pitched by the Left about the impending doom after Title II regulations on ISPs were repealed in 2018, but those concerns have proven unfounded. Not only has investment in broadband growth increased, but a Taxpayers Protection Alliance investigation found that widespread throttling and blocking of internet traffic did not occur in the 12 months after the repeal.
While no one believes the federal government would shut down Americans’ internet access, in some cases the nanny state has been overzealous in its attempts to protect citizens.
For example, a study by Online Policy Group found that “blocking software overblocked state-mandated curriculum topics extensively – for every web page correctly blocked as advertised, one or more was blocked incorrectly.”
In another case, a military blogger who worked at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, was pressured by superiors to close his blog after he complained about a mandatory school uniform program at a local public school.
An open internet is integral to a free society so it’s best that the government keep its hands off of it – as Iranians are quickly finding out.