NCRI - Several members of Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace have suggested promoting an Iranian version of the instant messaging app Telegram, over fears that it helped to facilitate and spread the nationwide protests that engulfed Iran in January.
Many argue that an Iranian Regime-controlled messaging app would not be like Telegram in the slightest because it wouldn’t encrypt the messages and would, in fact, allow the Regime to read all of the messages.
Social Media in Iran
After large-scale protests in 2009, the Iranian Regime blocked the biggest social networks in Iran, including Twitter and Facebook, over fears that they had helped the demonstrators coordinate.
Therefore, Telegram became the main communication network in Iran and was especially prized because of its end-to-end encryption service that prevented the government from reading the messages. In Iran, it had 40 million active users and around 60% of the population used it.
Now, the Regime is doing the exact same thing in the wake of these protests.
When the protests began, Iranian officials asked Telegram to block channels that covered or encouraged the protests. Telegram only blocked one channel, but that was because it had advocated violence, not because it supported the protests.
In response, the Iranian Regime blocked access to Telegram altogether and in some areas even shut off the internet, gaining the ire of the Iranian people and advocates for a free and fair internet worldwide.
This block has since been lifted, but the Regime can see that it is being used by the people of Iran as a tool against their oppressors and the Regime want that to stop.
The Regime has already attempted to get Telegram to follow their rules (which means allowing the Regime to spy on the Iranian people) and Telegram has refused.
Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s Civil Defence Organization, was the one to float the idea of an Iranian messaging app, based on the traffic to other messaging apps while Telegram was blocked.
Reza Taghipour, a member of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace and former Minister of Communications who played a huge role in increasing the surveillance of Iranian protesters, listed five Telegram alternatives (Wispi, Soroush Messenger, Gap Messenger, iGap Messenger and BisPhone) that the Regime could support.
Days later, the council said they would approve grants for up to 5 billion tomans ($135,000) for each app and give the apps a two-thirds discount in bandwidth costs. It is not known what the Regime would ask for in return.
The US government added the Supreme Council of Cyberspace to its sanctions list on January 12, for censorship and attempting to limit freedom of speech.