The Iranian government has ordered that foreign providers’ messaging apps, such as Telegram or WhatsApp, must store citizen’s data on servers located inside Iran. The order was issued by Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace, and was announced by state news agency IRNA on Sunday.
“Foreign messaging companies active in the country are required to transfer all data and activity linked to Iranian citizens into the country in order to ensure their continued activity.”
I think that we can assume this data would be accessible by the Iranian government.
Iran already implements widespread censorship of the internet. Almost 50 percent of the top 500 visited websites worldwide are blocked. This includes YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook.
This last is particularly surreal as since 2012 Iran’s Supreme Leader. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has run his own Facebook page! Khamenei appoints members of the Council, and according to the IRNA, the new directive was based on “”guidelines and concerns of the supreme leader.”
Khamenei’s Facebook page is updated regularly, and has attracted over 134,000 Likes!
Messaging apps in Iran
Under the new order, for companies such as Telegram to do business in Iran, they will need to setup data centers inside Iran. This is possible because Telegram does not encrypt messages end-to-end by default. End-to-end encryption is available, but is optional.
This means that for most users, their messages are stored on Telegram’s servers. These are encrypted, but Telegram holds the encryption keys. If Telegram complies with Iran’s demand, it will almost certainly be required to make those belonging to Iranian citizens available to the government.
It is thought that Telegram, in particular, is in the Iranian government’s crosshairs. This is due to concern that its widespread use before parliamentary elections in February this year may have contributed to an ongoing climate of political dissent and “immoral” behavior. The app is used by a whopping 1 in 4 Iranians (20 million out of a population of 80 million)!
How apps such as WhatsApp, which now uses end-to-end encryption, will fare under the new rules remains unclear. As it is, many Iranians employ VPNs and other censorship-busting technologies to evade the restrictions placed on their internet access. For more information about this, please check out 5 Best VPNs for Iran.