Cliff May

“The fax shall make you free.”

Albert Wohlstetter, the great Cold War strategist, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, said that back in 1990. He was right: The advent of fax machines, Xerox copiers and other then-cutting-edge communications technologies was an enormous boon to the free flow of information. In Communist countries, the Samzidat was transformed: Dissident self-publishers, who previously would sit at typewriters copying banned books page by page, could now, with the push of a button, create dozens of copies and transmit them almost anywhere.

Ever since, there has been not just the hope but the expectation that advancing communications technologies -- personal computers, the Internet, email, smart phones, satellites and the like – would inevitably spread freedom while constraining the power of the despots.

This just in: It’s not turning out that way.

Instead, Iran’s rulers have been using high-technology to break the backs of their domestic opponents. My colleagues, Mark Dubowitz and Toby Dershowitz, last weekend reported on tests conducted secretly by non-governmental technology experts revealing that Iranian security forces have the means to locate mobile phones in Iran to which encrypted messages have been sent – and to do it within minutes.

The theocratic regime has been increasing its ability to both monitor and control Internet activity within Iran’s borders. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei plans to go farther: He has ordered the creation of an “Internet oversight agency” whose mission will be to limit Iranians’ access to the Web. The Iranian chief of police, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, has called Google an "instrument of espionage." A top Iranian intelligence official has called the Internet “a spy.”

Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s Syrian handmaiden, also is escalating what Margaret Weiss of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy calls a “comprehensive crackdown” on Internet opponents. With assistance from both Tehran and Lebanon-based Hezbollah, Iran’s foreign legion, “the operational tempo of the pro-regime Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) has increased dramatically,” Weiss writes. SEA routinely “defaces what it perceives as hostile news and opposition sites, and has barraged Facebook pages belonging to no less than the European Union, President Obama, the State Department, Oprah Winfrey, Human Rights Watch, and Aljazeera with pro-Assad comments.”

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.