At a glance.
- Edward Snowden officially becomes a Russian citizen.
- More on Iran’s internet crackdown.
- ITU faces important election.
Edward Snowden officially becomes a Russian citizen.
Nine years after leaking top secret details about the US National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden Russian has been granted Russian citizenship, Reuters reports. After becoming a whistleblower in 2013, Snowden fled to Russia, where he was granted asylum to avoid being charged for espionage in the US. Snowden expressed in 2020 that he was seeking dual US-Russian citizenship, claiming it was a logistical decision that would allow himself and his family to travel across US and Russian borders more freely. The Kremlin announced yesterday that Snowden, along with seventy-five other foreign citizens, had been granted Russian citizenship in a decree from President Vladimir Putin. The New York Times notes that after receiving permanent residency in Russia in 2020, Snowden tweeted that he and his wife would “remain Americans, raising our son with all the values of the America we love — including the freedom to speak his mind,” and expressed his desire to return to the US one day. Security Week adds that the decree comes as Moscow prepares for a “special military operation” in Ukraine for which men with dual citizenship could also be asked to serve, making some wonder if Snowden might be among them.
More on Iran’s internet crackdown.
As we noted yesterday, the US Department of Treasury announced it is issuing a general license allowing tech companies to circumvent sanctions on Iran in order to provide the country’s citizens with internet access. The move was made in response to Iran’s efforts to block citizens from communicating online amid protests over the killing of Mahsa Amini while in custody of Iran’s morality police. The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) issued a joint statement with the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) yesterday applauding the US’s decision. “This new license is an invaluable step in supporting civil society in Iran and ensuring that the Iranian people have access to critical telecommunications tools,” said Leila Austin, Executive Director of PAAIA. Last year PAAIA and CHRI spearheaded a bipartisan congressional letter urging the Biden administration to update General License D-1 to allow for more internet freedom in Iran.
The Washington Post reports that during a phone call with the family of a security member killed during the unrest, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to make a “decisive strike on the disrupters of security and peace of the country.” As the Guardian explains, the Iranian government maintains a strict system of state-run cyber-surveillance to keep tabs on its citizens and suss out dissenters, including a newly implemented digital identity card system, which could enable officials to immediately identify protesters through CCTV cameras. In an effort to protect themselves, many protesters have been forced to try to obscure their identities or dismantle surveillance cameras. Despite the Iranian government’s crackdown on internet access, footage of the protests continue to surface on social media. “We’ve seen videos of protesters attacking police cars, chasing after police officers, throwing different kinds of incendiary devices at the police,” Jason Brodsky, policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran, told the Dispatch.
Meanwhile, American spacecraft manufacturer SpaceX, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, has given Iranian citizens access to its Starlink satellite internet network service to support protestors’ efforts to communicate online, Business Insider reports. Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at global think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who spoke with Musk, posted on Twitter, "It requires the use of terminals in-country, which I suspect the [Iranian] government will not support, but if anyone can get terminals into Iran, they will work." Aljazeera counters that the cost of getting the terminals into Iran will be prohibitive, and even if the funds are provided, Iranian officials will prevent the terminals from entering the country. What’s more, Iran could turn to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) or other authorities to legally protest Starlink’s actions.
ITU faces important election.
Speaking of the ITU, the UN’s influential international telecommunications body is in the process of electing a new secretary-general, and the decision could have massive repercussions for the future of the internet. Wired explains that there are two candidates in the running: Doreen Bogdan-Martin, a former US Commerce Department expert on telecommunications, and Rashid Ismailov, the former deputy minister for Russia’s telecommunications ministry. While both Bogdan-Martin and Ismailov share the goal of getting everyone in the world access to internet and cellphone service by 2030, Ismailov’s platform rests on rejecting American “dominance” online, pledging to humanize global telecommunications infrastructure. Göran Marby, head of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, says if the election goes the wrong way, “People around the world might not be able to connect to one single interoperable internet.” Ahead of the vote, the European Union has issued a letter urging the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference to take a human rights-based approach to telecommunications tech in order to minimize the global digital divide. “We encourage the ITU, as a member of the UN family and working with other Standard Development Organisations to develop international telecommunications/ICTs standards that are consistent with existing international frameworks on human rights and fundamental freedoms.”