Recent protests in Iran have made it to the global stage.
Thousands of protestors assembled to express their grievances with the policies of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, flooding the streets in violent clashes with security forces that resulted in the deaths of more than 20 people. In response to the protests, the Iranian government suspended all use of social media and messaging apps that would enable protestors to organize. It was a truly terrifying illustration of the horrors that a government-controlled internet can create.
Reflecting on this tragic conflict and the measures the Iranian government took to exert its power over the population, it is hard not to shiver at the unnerving influence of the country’s government-controlled internet.
Iran’s National Internet Network (NIN) has expanded since Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013, allowing the government to view users’ personal messages and what content they search for. The government’s response to the recent protests demonstrates the dangers of that growing power. Not only was Iran’s central government able to shut off its citizens' digital avenues to express themselves, it curbed citizens’ ability to organize as well. Crafty Iranian citizens found ways to organize in spite of the crackdown, but the Iranian government proactively sought out these loopholes and shut them down. To the Western world, the thought of this kind of surveillance and authoritarianism is chilling. The Founding Fathers of the United States would wince at the very notion of government control to this extent.
But the United States is not as far from Orwellian meddling and power as we like to think. Title II rules implemented under the Obama Administration classified broadband as a public utility, giving the government oversight of the internet.
Thankfully the FCC voted recently to roll back the rules, but the move was met with considerable public backlash. And undoubtedly, many of the same people who bemoaned the repeal of Title II are the same who are now expressing disgust with the Iranian government’s internet crackdown. These folks would benefit from knowing that Title II rules could enable a very similar climate to what the Iranians are experiencing.
When we talk about the Iranian government’s actions — limiting access to social media, communications apps, and access to broadband in general — the threat is really the same posed as Title II. Despite the Obama administration’s professedly good intentions, Title II rules opened up a whole slew of possibilities for government abuses of power.
Iran’s struggle with political unrest and the government’s efforts to quell it by controlling the internet is a case study in the dangers of centralized internet control. A decentralized internet keeps what has become our most critical means of communication democratic. Fears that the more than 400 internet service providers in the United States would, in the absence of Title II rules, use their collective power to wreak havoc on American citizens are completely unfounded and little more than scare tactics from the left. Look no further than Iran’s recent dilemma to see that government control of the internet does not end well for anyone.
Christie-Lee McNally is the founder of Free Our Internet. She was the Maine Statewide Director for Donald J. Trump for President in 2016, is a concealed weapons permit holder, and a USAW Certified Olympic Lifting Coach. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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