According to the new rules, the personal information of citizens visiting cybercafes, such as their name, father's name, national ID number, and telephone number, will be registered. Cafe owners will be required to keep the personal and contact information of their clients and also a record of the websites and pages visited for six months.
Another new rule that has been announced requires cybercafe owners to install closed-circuit TV cameras and keep the video recordings for six months. The guidelines also say that installing circumvention tools that allow access to banned websites will be illegal at Internet cafes.
Deputy cyberpolice chief Mohsen Mirbehresi has said that owners of Internet cafes should deny Internet access to those who do not show their IDs. Internet cafes have 15 days to implement the restrictions, which were announced on January 3.
The cyberpolice force, which was launched last year, has said that the reason for the measures is that "citizens are concerned about theft of information" and security. Indeed, some of the new rules, including one that requires Internet cafes to delete user's personal browsing data from the computers used at the end of each working day, could lead to improved security.
But the guidelines, which have been put in place ahead of the March parliamentary elections, will also create a logbook that authorities can use to track down activists or whomever is deemed a threat to national security.
Iran has a record of threatening and arresting online activists and bloggers. Following the 2009 postelection protests, during which opposition activists used the Internet and social media to document the police crackdown, Iran's authorities appear to have increased their scrutiny of online activities.
Iranian leaders have warned that the soft war, which they say "enemies" (the United States) have launched to destabilize the Islamic republic and lead to its demise, is one of the greatest threats facing the country. A main tool they claim is being used in the conflict is the Internet, which -- despite Iran's tough censorship -- gives Iranians access to banned ideas and information and allows them to gather online and discuss taboo subjects.
An Iranian Internet?
The new restrictions for Internet cafes are being announced amid increased concern over Iran's stated plan to launch a national Internet.
An Iranian daily reported earlier this week that preparations for the launch of the national Internet are behind the significant decline in Internet speed that users have been complaining about recently. "Roozegar" claimed that the national Internet, which is being referred to as the "clean Internet," will be launched within two weeks. Some Internet users speculate that the launch of the national Internet will coincide with the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution.
But officials have so far not announced a roll-out date for the intranet, which they say will improve speed an security and be "halal," or pure.
Communications Minister Reza Taghipour was quoted as saying on January 4 that the reason for the decline in Internet speed was "temporary problems," including what he described as an undersea cable cut in the Persian Gulf.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari