Digital rights activists working outside the country to support Iran say the US government’s support for the circumvention tools has been valuable.
“They certainly provide by far the most support for the major VPNs used in Iran,” says Reza Ghazinouri, a strategic advisor at United for Iran, a San Francisco-based human rights and civil liberties group.
But some have reservations about the strategies the US government has used to promote internet freedom in Iran. Amir Rashidi, director of internet security and digital rights at the Iran-focused human rights organization Miaan Group, says he has concerns about the sanctions against Arvan Cloud because he fears that cracking down on key digital services in Iran could add more restrictions.
“Anywhere, if you go after infrastructure, even if it’s under government control, and sanction an electric company or a gas company, it won’t help anyone,” says Al-Rashidi. “If you sanction internet infrastructure, you’re making the Iranian government’s job a lot easier.
Al-Rashidi also notes that while he is not surprised that a company such as Arvan has close ties to the Iranian regime, he wishes the US government would provide more detailed evidence as to why this technology company should be sanctioned over any other company in Iran. . He notes that Arvan is apparently the only Iranian tech company that publishes an annual transparency report of any kind — even if it’s often not particularly informative.
In July 2021, Arfan publicly joined other Iranian technology companies and digital rights activists in opposing restrictive legislation that the regime was promoting under the guise of a “user protection” law. On Tuesday, the company’s CEO, Boya Perhsinloo, one of the executives named in Friday’s US Treasury Department sanctions, published an article calling for expanding internet freedom inside Iran.
Pirhosseinloo writes that Iran should focus on “removing filtering and massive Internet outages” as well as “removing any kind of disruptions and restrictions imposed on Internet protocols in the name of dealing with VPNs.” He concluded by calling for an overhaul of Iran’s approach to internet freedom.
“We must accept that Iran should be brought out of global isolation and sanctions, and hope must be restored to the body of Iranian society through the removal of internal sanctions,” Pira Hosseinlu wrote. “No such path will begin until life is restored through Internet freedom and the removal of pervasive disruptions and restrictions. A return to the roots of the digital economy.”
Iran’s digital landscape is complex and efforts to influence the Iranian regime are never clear.
“I’m not saying these guys are great, but they were outspoken against the Iranian government’s plans,” says Al-Rashidi. “The US government may have information that I don’t, but I’d like to see more evidence to support the claim.”