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Iranian Parliament Orders Surveillance On Citizens’ Private Lives

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Iran’s Parliament (Majles) has directed the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance to monitor citizens’ personal lives, as the regime’s ideology loses ground.

The goal is to assess how individuals’ lifestyles align with the broader culture of the Islamic Republic, their media consumption patterns, their inclination toward foreign-based media for news and information, and their utilization of communication tools.

Certain lawmakers with access to the complete bill contend that the proposal extends beyond mere lifestyle monitoring, resembling more of a surveillance initiative aimed at individuals and their private lives.

According to reports, 162 of the parliament’s 290 members have voted for the bill, 10 members opposed it and another ten abstained. However, it is not clear where the other 108 members of the parliament stand. That is a large number and could indicate serious but otherwise silent opposition to scrutinising people’s private life.

While the bill was being discussed at the Majles during previous months, Iranian media including Tejarat News, suggested that the government was going to monitor individual Iranians’ presence and activity on social media.

A session of the Iranian parliament on November 5, 2023

The Iranian regime began restricting access to the Internet as early as 2002, when it began to block independent news websites and many other sites it deemed religiously forbidden.

Since 2009, the Iranian government has progressively imposed restrictions and outright bans on social media platforms. Their concern primarily lies in the potential use of these platforms for organizing and mobilizing groups of people against the regime. The Iranian government has grown more apprehensive due to several rounds of nationwide protests since 2017, recognizing the pivotal role of social media in disseminating and fuelling dissent. Their response to this challenge has largely involved the arrest and, on occasion, even the killing of social media activists.

The government also began a serious clamp-down on Internet access by reducing connectivity and banning all social media outlets, while promoting homegrown platforms, though unsuccessfully. While Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Ebrahim Raisi and most top officials use platforms such as Twitter (X) and Instagram the government bars ordinary Iranian from using them.

The plan to monitor the people’s lifestyle is part of the country’s controversial five year development plan, which has not been endorsed by the Majles yet, but in a strange way, article 75 of the plan has been approved.

The Majles has called for “Ongoing monitoring and assessment of key indicators related to general culture, lifestyles, media influence, and communications” in Iran, to be conducted through online means.

According to Tejarat News, this involves gathering data on people’s social media usage, as well as comprehensive details of their lives, including travel patterns, shopping behaviors, and even the specific food items they purchase from online supermarket websites. This data will then be cross-referenced with individual Iranians’ information maintained by the Statistical Center of Iran, a government agency associated with the Planning and Budget Organization.

While the Majles was approving the billlawmaker Gholamreza Nouri Ghezelcheh pointed out that such a monitoring is against Article 25 of the Iranian Constitution which bars the government from spying on citizens’ private lives. He warned that any study of lifestyle should not include the private lives of citizens and invasion of their privacy. 

Majles Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf concurred that any investigation into people’s private lives would require permission from the prosecutor. He emphasized that this law should not be exploited to encroach upon individuals’ privacy. However, he did not specify whether there was a mechanism in place to prevent the government from infringing on its citizens’ privacy. Another lawmaker, Moineddin Saeedi, expressed concerns about the public’s sensitivity to their privacy and anticipated a negative reaction.