Why an Iranian Judge Summoned Mark Zuckerberg to Court

Weeks after an Iranian ban on WhatsApp was overturned, an Iranian judge wants “the Zionist director of Facebook” to answer privacy questions.

National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
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Kaveh Waddell
May 27, 2014, 11:36 a.m.

Con­ser­vat­ive and re­form­ist ele­ments of the Ir­a­ni­an polit­ic­al ma­chine clashed on Tues­day when a judge con­demned What­s­App and In­s­tagram just weeks after a pro­posed ban on What­s­App was over­turned by Ir­an’s pres­id­ent.

A court in the Fars province in south­ern Ir­an summoned Face­book CEO Mark Zuck­er­berg in re­sponse to “many cit­izens’ com­plaints” about the pri­vacy vi­ol­a­tions of two Face­book-owned ap­plic­a­tions, In­s­tagram and What­s­App, Ir­an’s se­mi­of­fi­cial ISNA news agency re­por­ted on Tues­day.

Ruhol­lah Mo­men-Nasab, an in­form­a­tion-tech­no­logy of­fi­cial with the para­mil­it­ary Basij or­gan­iz­a­tion, called for “the Zion­ist dir­ect­or of Face­book” or his at­tor­ney to ap­pear in the Ir­a­ni­an court to de­fend Face­book and pay pos­sible dam­ages. Zuck­er­berg is un­likely to vis­it Ir­an to stand tri­al: The United States and Ir­an do not have an ex­tra­di­tion agree­ment, and the Face­book CEO has no in­cent­ive to vol­un­tar­ily ap­pear in court.

In­s­tagram, a photo-shar­ing ser­vice, and What­s­App, an in­stant-mes­saging ap­plic­a­tion, are of­ten blocked in Ir­an, and some so­cial-me­dia ser­vices such as Face­book, You­Tube, and Twit­ter are al­most al­ways banned. Des­pite these In­ter­net fil­ters, high-level Ir­a­ni­an of­fi­cials such as Pres­id­ent Has­san Rouh­ani, For­eign Min­is­ter Javad Za­rif, and even Su­preme Lead­er Ali Khame­nei are act­ive on so­cial me­dia, and many Ir­a­ni­ans use proxy ser­vices to cir­cum­vent gov­ern­ment fil­ters.

In­con­sist­ent mes­saging with­in Ir­an over so­cial me­dia is rep­res­ent­at­ive of a per­sist­ent struggle in the coun­try between re­form-minded Rouh­ani and the hard-line politi­cians who op­pose him. Rouh­ani chal­lenged a ban on What­s­App that was ori­gin­ally pro­posed in early May, un­will­ing to block a widely used ser­vice without an al­tern­at­ive in place. “We should see the cy­ber­world as an op­por­tun­ity,” the Ir­a­ni­an pres­id­ent said earli­er this month. “Why are we so shaky? Why don’t we trust our youth?”

An­oth­er ex­plan­a­tion for Ir­an’s at­temp­ted ban on What­s­App and oth­er mes­saging ser­vices is that the coun­try’s tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions in­dustry is try­ing to pro­tect its pock­et­book. The na­tion­al Tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­pany of Ir­an has lost rev­en­ue to mes­saging ser­vices such as What­s­App, BBC Per­sian re­ports, and could be ap­ply­ing pres­sure to main­tain its hold over Ir­a­ni­ans’ com­mu­nic­a­tions.

As Ir­a­ni­an politi­cians work out their dif­fer­ences, then, Zuck­er­berg might do well to avoid the scen­ic Fars province.

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