Tech Law

Iranian Court Wants a Word With Zuckerberg

Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been summoned by an Iranian court over privacy-violation concerns, according to news reports on Tuesday.

The court in question, located in Iran’s southern province of Fars, reportedly also opened a case against Facebook-owned social networking services WhatsApp and Instagram and ordered that they be blocked.

Either Zuckerberg or an appointed attorney must appear in court, an Iranian official told state news agency ISNA.

The official called Zuckerberg the “Zionist director” of Facebook — a reference to his Jewish background — and reportedly mentioned a possible fine.

The news follows by just a week the arrest and subsequent release of six Iranian youths for posting a video in which they danced to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” on the rooftops of Tehran. The director of the video reportedly remains in custody.

‘An Uphill Battle’

Iran has no extradition treaty with the United States, so it’s unlikely that Facebook’s leader will have to respond to the summons. The summons speaks volumes, however, about conflicting views of the Internet around the globe.

“Neither Zuckerberg nor his companies’ officers will be going to Iran to face charges from a conservative judge there,” technology attorney Raymond Van Dyke told TechNewsWorld.

“Iran, China, Russia and other countries that wish to maintain control over their populations by limiting Web access fight a losing battle against the forces of open access to social media and popular social media tools such as Instagram,” he added. “Just as the West contends with privacy concerns, Iran and other nations must come to grips with these modern issues.”

Privacy concerns “pervade all cultures, and each approaches these particular issues differently,” Van Dyke pointed out.

Over the last decade or so, for example, “Americans generally gave up electronic privacy but are now trying to reclaim it with the Snowden releases,” he said. “The Iranian authorities face an uphill battle with their educated populace in the world of the Internet, particularly against the social media paradigm and Mark Zuckerberg.”

‘An Opportunity’

Although Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called for more Internet freedom, the nation’s inconsistent views on the online world are frequently evident. Social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all have been banned in Iran, for example, even as high-ranking government officials — including Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — have continued to use them.

Last week, a different Iranian court ordered that Instagram be blocked as well. However, users in Tehran still could access both WhatsApp and Instagram on Tuesday, according to reports.

Rouhani apparentlyopposes blocking such websites before local alternatives can be created.

“#Cyberspace should be seen as opportunity,” he tweeted earlier this month.

Iran last year announced that it planned to create an “Islamic Google Earth” dubbed “Basir” that would be free of the “Zionist” tendencies of Google’s version.

‘Censorship in the Guise of Human Rights’

“This isn’t the first time governments have claimed they’re ‘protecting users’ privacy’ when they’re actually trying to crack down on websites they don’t like — and it won’t be the last,” Berin Szoka, president of the TechFreedom think tank, told TechNewsWorld.

An Italian court in 2012 convicted three Google executives in absentia for violating Italian privacy laws, claiming that sites like Google Videos or YouTube must screen the massive volume of user content that they carry, he pointed out.

“That would, of course, cripple most social networking sites,” Szoka noted, “but to the Iranian government, breaking social network sites indirectly while claiming you’re protecting privacy is just a great way to rebrand censorship in the guise of human rights.”

Katherine Noyes has been reporting on business and technology for decades. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.

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