"Today, censorship cannot hide the truth"

Upsurge of citizen journalism in Iran as funeral of dissident cleric turns into opposition protest

Above: the scene in Qom

Days after the Twitter hacking by a group styling itself the "Iranian Cyber Army" comes another outbreak of citizen journalism from Iran's opposition movement.

The funeral of the dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in the holy city of Qom has attracted tens of thousands of mourners, with the number increasing as I post.

Foreign media are banned from reporting the funeral, but the Twitter hashtags #Montazeri and #Iranelection are flourishing, disseminating photographs of the huge crowds, videos of anti-regime chants, and details of arrests as and when they happen.

This video -- one of three posted (at the time of writing) on a live blog of events -- shows demonstrators holding up placards painted green, the colour of the pro-democracy movement:

 

One video records the chant: "He who was the cheater, ripped the picture." This refers to the disputed election (the government being the "cheater"), accusing the government of responsibility for a ripped picture of Ayatollah Khomeini shown on state media and blamed on protesters.

Other demonstrators have tweeted that people are chanting: "Basiji, you've gone wild!" and "Khamenei, did you know, soon you will fall!". Another says: "Every minute the number of Greens increases." A third says that "Groups of ppl have left Ghom for Tehran".

In the summer, Ayatollah Montazeri wrote in support of the protesters:

I ask the police and army personnel not to "sell their religion", and be aware that receiving orders will not excuse them before God. Recognise the protesting youth as your children. Today, censorship and cutting telecommunication lines cannot hide the truth.

It remains to be seen whether this will turn into an outbreak on the scale seen after the election in July. But, in the light of these words, it seems rather fitting that Twitter and the blog network, which allow the grass-roots movement to spread its message worldwide, will be the place to find out.

 

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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