Why Was Mark Zuckerberg Summoned to Iranian Court?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

It’s certainly not the first time that Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) has come under fire over privacy concerns, and it’s unlikely it will be the last, but earlier this week, an Iranian judge summoned Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to appear in court over privacy concerns; the cases were opened by an Iranian court in the southern province of Fars.

“The Zionist director of the company of Facebook, or his official attorney, must appear in court to defend himself and pay for possible losses,” said Ruhollah Momen-Nasab, an Iranian Internet official, referring to Zuckerberg in a recent Reuters report.

Zuckerberg is not likely to appear in Iranian court, however, in part do to the minor detail that Iran remains under international sanctions due to its much contested nuclear activities. Reuters adds that even if an American citizen wanted to visit, visas are extremely hard to obtain.

The complaints are in regards to Facebook-owned companies Instagram and the instant messaging service WhatsApp, which was acquired by Facebook earlier this year in a $19 billion deal; citizens complained that they believed both applications were violating their privacy. According to the Associated Press, the judge also ordered that both applications be blocked in Iran.

The news marks the second time in less than a week that Iranian courts have pursued measures to block Facebook-owned applications. Last week, Iran’s Ministry of Telecommunications demanded that Instagram be blocked due to privacy concerns, though the program (along with WhatsApp) were both still accessible around noon on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. This isn’t a new phenomenon; in Iran, often the government will announce websites or applications as being blocked, yet the programs and sites still remain operational.

Iran has tried to block Instagram before, however; in December, the government managed to block Instagram for thirteen hours. Facebook is already officially banned throughout the country, though ironically, some senior political leaders are active on Twitter, including Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, and most top officials have access to all forms of social media. Other Iranians, particularly youth, utilize proxy servers to gain access to banned sites.

WhatsApp, similarly, has been targeted before. Iran’s Committee For Determining Criminal Web Content announced earlier this month that it sought to ban the mobile web chat app; the Committee’s secretary, Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, referred to Zuckerberg as an “American Zionist,” Mashable reports.

In the future, President Hassan Rouhani says he seeks to loosen Internet censorship by utilizing something called “smart filtering” instead, which the government will use to only keep out sites which it considers “immoral.” He has also advocated for creating local alternatives to Western social media sites.

Rouhani also added that Iran needs to start embracing the internet, rather than seeing it as a threat, according to Mashable. “We should see the cyber world as an opportunity,” he said. “We are we so shaky, why don’t we trust our youth?”

One of Iran’s primary concerns regarding internet use, particularly among the more conservative judiciary, is that young people in the country often use the internet as a means of bypassing bans on Western cultural products. Currently, Iran sometimes filters websites such as Facebook and Twitter, though it seems the government plans on relying on filtering more and more, while banning websites outright less and less.

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