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The revolution will not be televised
Iran is using technology to shut down growing protests against the regime, but anti-government forces are fighting back.
April 18, 2010 3:37 by Iason Athanasiadis
Nader’s courteous treatment was in contrast to the violent scenes that have flooded YouTube since the controversial June 2009 elections. It marks a change of strategy for a government more secure in its ability to confront unrest. Sensitive to embarrassing past videos showing security forces and regime loyalists beating up demonstrators or passers-by, shooting into crowds, or using an official car to run over a demonstrator, they have dedicated more bodies to policing and adopted a high-tech approach to shutting down mobile telephones and the Internet, the opposition’s main method of communicating.
“Mobile phone networks and how they connect is one of the IRGC’s key priorities because it’s one of the key tools for opponents of the regime for coordinating their actions,” said Nicola Pedde, the director of the Rome-based Institute for Global Studies, and a frequent visitor to Iran. “Now, a stay in Tehran is Soviet-like, there are people that are constantly accompanying you everywhere.”
Although the Islamic Republic has one of the highest online populations, and cell phone usage reaches to the most isolated hamlets, the government has done little to improve its intelligence services’ connectivity and information sharing, or to extend its street surveillance capability. Traffic cameras are not fitted with face-recognition software, nor are they linked into an electronic grid that would allow intelligence officers to follow a suspect’s progress through the streets, experts say.
In 2007, a human rights activist in Tehran acquired from a disgruntled former employee the raw feed from several traffic cameras showing a women’s rights protest being repressed in central Tehran, and posted it on YouTube. Protesters have now identified where the traffic cameras are and take care to come to protests disguised with bandannas or sunglasses.
After a prison stint on an unrelated charge, the same human rights activist commented that “the intel people are so stupid, straight from the shahrestanha (provinces). The guy sitting opposite me didn’t care whether I’m Muslim or not, a worshipper of Satan or Hossein. He only cared about how he could get money out of me, how he could use my file to his advantage to buy a car or house for himself.”
Shoddy file-keeping and non-compartmentalization at the intelligence ministry were corroborated by a Dubai-based activist detained during the summer in one of the post-election demonstrations.