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Iran's internet freedom is on life support

The country's president wants a state-controlled intranet to replace the internet.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Anadolu Agency

In November, Iran's government announced a price hike on oil, leading to mass protests in Tehran. To quell the spreading unrest, the Iranian government effectively shut down the internet. After a week of Iranian security forces cracking down on protesters, including an estimated death toll between 140 and 208, internet access was gradually restored around the country. Judging by statements made by President Hassan Rouhani, the internet shutdowns could be a harbinger of more censorship in 2020 and beyond.

Iran's intranet, known as the National Information Network, will be expanded so "people will not need foreign [networks] to meet their needs," President Rouhani said to Iran's parliament on Sunday, according to Radio Farda. The decree to bolster the NIN comes from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself, Rouhani said.

Developing a more robust intranet would allow the Iranian government to cut access to the internet, and Iranians off from the rest of the world, without the economic self-impairment that internet cutoffs cause. An intranet would allow the Iranian government to select what sites and content Iranians can see, as opposed to the blunt and costly tool of a total shutdown.

Russia is moving toward a similar model, while China years ago erected the Great Firewall to keep out unwanted internet services and platforms.

Though Wi-Fi connections have been restored throughout much of the country, mobile internet is still down for residents of multiple Iranian provinces. Iran's internet shutdown came a little over a month after an almost identical situation in neighboring Iraq: After months of protests and unrest over poor living standards, the Iraqi government cut its population off with a complete internet shutdown.