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SURVEIL AND CONTROL : SURVEILLANCE TECHNOLOGIES EMPOWER AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENTS

By : Grace Raih

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On September 13th a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini traveled from her home in Iran’s Kurdistan province to visit her brother in Tehran. When she arrived, she was arrested outside a metro station by the country’s morality police for allegedly “wearing her hijab improperly.” Masha died in a hospital in Tehran three days later. Iranian authorities alleged she passed from a heart attack due to an underlying disease and denied any foul play, yet eyewitness accounts attest she was beaten into a coma by police. Incensed by her murder and cover up, Iranians have defiantly amassed across the country from Mahsa’s home in Saqqez to Tehran to decry her death and the compulsory hijab law that lead to her arrest and murder.

Dissenting Iranian women have been burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in defiance of this law that negates choice and has affected women’s access to education, employment and public spaces. Over two months of protesting, human rights groups state that at least 348 people have been killed and 16,000 jailed by security forces. In 1979, decades before this revolutionary wave, Iranian women were met with violence by pro-Revolution forces for protesting this very law established by newly elected leader of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini. These same suppressive actors would later become Iran’s Guidance Patrol, otherwise known as the “morality police”, whose primary contract is to enforce laws tied to regulating Islamic dress.

Iran’s Minister of Health explicitly stated that the country’s use of facial recognition technology during the pandemic will now be deployed against women in public places who do not comply with these strict laws regarding dress. Not only can this technology be used to easily find those who break this law, this tech will very well be used to target any opposition to the Islamic Regime.

The Iranian government is also attempting to develop a nationwide intranet, a local network that provides connection among different servers inside the country and, importantly, separates itself from the global internet. This timing is intentional, as human and digital rights advocates warn blocking open internet access will further isolate its citizenry from global eyes and allow this mass violence to continue. Maintaining a free and open internet can be a matter of life or death under a brutally suppressive government. Surveillance of citizens and information control are old strategies of authoritarian governments, further empowered by new technologies that can digitally target and analog “rebellious” human behavior.

WeChat is a popular Chinese super app that could be adopted in Iran under their technology sharing agreement. It is heavily censored and closely monitored by Beijing officials. All-encompassing apps and intranets controlled by governments, or tech companies willing to do their bidding, provide endless monitoring and suppression of their citizens. Surveillance is never innocuous in any nation, especially under so-called Democratic governments that behave more and more like crumbling empires. Authoritarianism is not a distant foreign, far-off threat but rather a slow boiling pot we keep pretending is a warm bath. Solidarity with Iranian women and those who oppose surveillance globally.

—Grace Raih

Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #153 December 2022

 

Check out all the art and columns of December's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass

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