The Intercept has received documents that revealed Tehran’s digital surveillance capability. The Iranian government partners with mobile carriers to track mobile devices, as well as monitoring, disrupting, and altering communications.
Following the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s morality police, there have been protests all over the country. The government has responded by restricting internet access and blocking platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram.
The documents leaked to The Intercept provide details about a tool called SIAM, which has provided Tehran with the means to control information flow. SIAM requires the cooperation of mobile carriers to work.
As explained by The Intercept: “According to these internal documents, SIAM is a computer system that works behind the scenes of Iranian cellular networks, providing its operators a broad menu of remote commands to alter, disrupt, and monitor how customers use their phones. The tools can slow their data connections to a crawl, break the encryption of phone calls, track the movements of individuals or large groups, and produce detailed metadata summaries of who spoke to whom, when, and where. Such a system could help the government invisibly quash the ongoing protests — or those of tomorrow — an expert who reviewed the SIAM documents told The Intercept.”
Among other things, SIAM can kick mobile devices from 3G and 4G networks to 2G networks, which are slow and use protocols that are out-of-date that cannot work with modern messaging platforms like Signal and WhatsApp. Additionally, 2G networks are easy to monitor because they are either easy to hack or entirely unencrypted.
Experts told The Intercept that SIAM can allow the government to not only track every device that was at a given protest but also to collect enough data to build profiles about the people in contact with those devices.
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