Iran shuts down the internet to clamp down on fuel price protests

Unprecedented network blackout approaches three days as citizens revolt against fuel hike

Internet access has been almost entirely blocked in Iran for more than two days as social unrest over fuel prices continues to escalate across the country.

As the nationwide protests that erupted last week continue, it's been more than 65 hours since access to the Web has been restricted for the vast majority of Iran, data from the NetBlocks service shows. The blanket internet shut down, imposed by the Iranian government, has seen connectivity to the outside world fall to just 4% of normal levels.

Mobile network operators, similarly, have endured severe disruption, with the largest firms including MCI, Rightel and IranCell falling offline over the weekend.

Protests were sparked on Friday by a sudden announcement that fuel prices would rise by between 50% and 300%, with anger against the regime rapidly spreading to towns and cities nationwide.

The authorities responded by shutting down access to the Web due to the prominence of social media platforms in organising these waves of dissent. The protests themselves have intensified, and have resulted in several deaths.

NetBlocks, a civil and digital rights group, gathers its data by mapping the entire IP address space of the country in real-time and shows internet outages that correspond with connectivity disruptions.

There's a distinct network pattern that correlates with imposed network outages, such as that in Iran, which allows for attribution to the root cause.

The UN passed a non-binding resolution recognising disrupted internet access as a human rights violation three years ago.

Although Iran isn't the only nation to use such authoritarian tactics to crack down on the spread of dissent, this outage is on the verge of becoming the longest government-imposed blackout that a country has sustained.

Previous reports show that India, for example, shut down the internet in a particular region earlier this month to coincide with a 70-year verdict that sought to resolve a land dispute between Hindu and Muslim residents. The Iraqi government similarly intermittently closed off online access in November as protests against alleged government corruption spread.

A few steps short of shutting down the web entirely, many authoritarian countries including China and Russia have instead opted to censor certain websites and platforms, particularly social media websites.

Russia, for example, has been engaged in a curious censorship back-and-forth with Google, with the government demanding Google routes search results through the filtration system.

This is based on a law Russia passed last year that required search engines to be connected to the federal state information system (FGIS), that lets the government filter results in line with a state-wide online censorship campaign.

The secretive Project Dragonfly search engine, meanwhile, that Google was developing for the Chinese state in order for search results to confine with strict censorship laws, was finally terminated in July. The decision was made in light of heavy criticism levelled at the company after the existence of the project was revealed last year.

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