EghtesadOnline: Iran’s ICT minister has often come under fire from hardliners that he “has not done enough for blocking VPN and proxy services”.
On Monday afternoon, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi responded to critics during an Iranian Parliament's open session.
Jahromi—known for his soft-spoken manners—turned into a firebrand speaker during the Majlis hearing and said further tightening online filtering would disrupt life in Iran, ISNA reported.
“Blocking all VPN and proxy services would not be technically possible,” Financial Tribune quoted him as saying.
However, for the sake of the argument, he called on MPs to “imagine that all VPNs get blocked tomorrow morning”, and asked them whether they can comprehend the impacts of such a ban.
Jahromi said the tight ban would disrupt the activities of people from different walks of life.
“The university professor, looking for an article on the Internet, the businessman trying to circumvent sanctions, the computer programmer trying to accesses services, will face a [self-imposed] blockade,” he said.
“Some call on the ICT ministry to block all VPN services and then if people’s life got disrupted, be the one to take the blame for the move.”
Almost all international social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, along with popular services like YouTube, are blocked in Iran and people need to use VPNs to access them.
The minister has often railed against blanket online censorship as it disregards people’s needs, calling for giving journalists and academics access to uncensored Internet.
During his parliamentary address, Jahromi once again proposed the introduction of a multi-tiered system for providing Iranians with access to Internet based on their needs.
“An academic's access to the Internet should not be limited like a nine-year-old’s,” he said.
Million Dollar VPN Market
Jahromi blasted a local “mafia” running the million-dollar business of selling VPNs.
“The business of selling VPNs in Iran is worth hundreds of billions of rials. It is well-known who is behind this mafia. But no one takes action against them,” he said.
He also said there are people who “argue that no law prohibits the sale of VPNs in Iran” to justify their inaction against those selling VPNs in Iran.
Numerous online platforms are selling VPN and proxy services in Iran. The websites are not blocked and users can pay for these services through the Iranian banking system. Therefore, tracking the well-connected entity selling the services is not a difficult task for authorities.
However, what prevents the confrontation is the apparent lack of will in the upper echelons of power.
The minister then responded to three questions posed by Nasrollah Pejmanfar who represents Mashhad and Kalat electoral district in the Iranian Parliament.
Pejmanfar is a conservative politician and a member of Front of Islamic Revolution Stability.
His questions were: Why the ministry has failed to implement a centralized KYC system, why is the ministry not blocking all VPN and proxy services and why does the ministry not block SIM cards that have not been registered properly?
As per the current laws and regulations, “the ICT Ministry is not responsible” for blocking VPN services, Jahromi said, stressing that Internet service providers should do that.
Regarding the establishment of a centralized know your customer (KYC) system, Jahromi again said that the project is not within the ICT Ministry’s scope of activities.
Iran’s High Council of Cyberspace ratified a document on the establishment of an online user authentication system late Saturday.
A council meeting, attended by President Hassan Rouhani, ratified a document for the development of a system that would be akin to a centralized KYC mechanism.
According to President.ir, the system will make online transactions more secure and help businesses and users conduct communications after both sides are authenticated.
Know your customer is the process of a business verifying the identity of clients and assessing their suitability, along with the potential risks of illegal business interactions.
In response to the last question, Jahromi said that over the past two years, 17 million SIMs, which had not been registered properly, have been deactivated through the collaboration of ICT Ministry, Iran’s High Council of Cyberspace, Iranian mobile operators and the National Organization for Civil Registration.