The punishments have been set out in Article 20 of the same body of laws. Depending on the conditions and circumstances surrounding the committed crime, and based on the size of the income or other benefits that this criminal activity generate for the corporate entity, the convicted party can be sentenced to paying cash fine which is 3 to 6 times greater than the usual amount [from 5 million to 40 million rials]. In addition, the perpetrator can be imprisoned for a maximum period of five years. Furthermore, the corporate entity concerned will be closed down temporarily, and this closure can last up to one to 9 months, and if the crime is committed again, the punishments will be aggravated, and the corporate entity will be closed for anything from 1 to 5 years.
If the maximum punishment for the said cyber crime exceeds the period of five years, the company will be closed down for 1 to 3 years, and if the crime is repeated, the company will be dissolved permanently, and the manager of that company will not be permitted to establish another company for a period of three years
Article 21: Working on the basis of the technical regulations, and with reference to the index provided by “the committee for determining criteria” for identifying unlawful material, the providers of [Internet] access have a duty to cleanse (filter) the content they make available to users to remove any material and content which have been declared unlawful by the Cyber Crime Law, or material which can be used to commit cyber crimes. In the event that they intentionally do not filter and remove unlawful content from their service, they will be disbanded altogether. However, if they pave the way for the public’s access to unlawful material because of carelessness or lack of knowledge and know-how, in the first instance, they will be sentenced to a cash fine of 20 million to 100 million rials, and in the second instance, they will be fined 100 million to 1 billion rials. If they commit the same offence for the third time, they will be closed down temporarily for anything between one and three years.
Note 1: If the unlawful content happens to belong to websites affiliated to the state public organizations and institutions – including establishments operating under the supervision and authority of the Vali-e Faqih [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei] and the three branches of state (that is the Judiciary, Legislative and Executive Powers] – or to non-governmental public institutions (according to the list of non-governmental public institutions and organizations, provided by the relevant laws approved on 19 Tir 1373 [July 1994] and their subsequent amendments and appendixes); or to political parties and associations, professional and guild-based organizations, Islamic organizations and societies, or establishments for the officially recognized religious minorities; and finally to other private individuals or corporate legal entities who are present in Iran and as such, their identities can be ascertained, and it is possible to communicate with them, then on the basis of instructions by the judicial authority dealing with the case, and on the condition that the unlawful content is removed immediately by the proprietors, then the website will not be blocked (filtered) pending the issuance of the final judicial verdict.
Note 2: When there is a private plaintiff involved, the blocking (or filtering) of the unlawful content will occur with the orders of the judicial authority dealing with that specific case.
The above Article envisages the establishment of a working group, or a committee, with the task of determining what constitutes criminal and unlawful content on computers, and then sharing its decisions to the Internet service providers. Article 20 has made the Internet service providers duty-bound to remove and filter these types of content from the Internet before providing the users with access and other services. If they fail to do this, they can expect two kinds of treatment:
A) If they fail to remove these content from the Internet intentionally and on purpose, they will be disbanded altogether
B) If these unlawful material remain on the Internet because of carelessness or mistakes by the service providers, then they will be sentenced to payment of fines.
Note 1 of Article 20 concerning unlawful content in websites which belong to well-known public, governmental or even non-governmental organizations, institutions and parties, has clarified that these types of content will not be blocked until the court has made a decision about whether or not they should be filtered. Therefore, the unlawful content appearing on the websites of recognized and well-known organizations, groups and parties will not be removed and filtered until the court decides the appropriate course of action.
It is clear that the essential prerequisite for the appearance of such cases in courts is that the Internet service providers must formally inform a court about the issue.
Note 2 of this Article also states that if a private plaintiff lodges a complaint against some unlawful computer content, the content will not be removed until the court has decided whether or not the material should be filtered.
Article 22: “Within a period of one month from the date of approval of this law, the Judiciary should establish the committee for determining the unlawful content in computers in the building of the General Prosecutor Office. The Ministers of Education, Communications and Information Technology, Intelligence, Justice, Science, Research and Technology and Islamic Guidance – or their delegates and representatives – as well as the Head of the Islamic Publicity Organization, the Head of the Voice and Vision Organization, the Commander of the Law Enforcement Force, and an expert in the field of information technology and communication – as determined and approved by the Majlis Commission for Mines and Industry – a member of the Islamic Majlis – selected by the Majlis Judicial and Legal Commission and approved by the Majlis as a whole – will make up the membership of the said committee. The State General Prosecutor will chair the committee.”
Note 1: The committee must meet at least once every 15 days, and the presence of 7 members with the right to vote will give these meetings the official quorum they need. The decisions of the committee, furthermore, will be made on the basis of the votes of a relative majority of members.
Note 2: The Committee is obliged to hear complaints by different bodies about the kind of content which has been filtered, and it has to make the appropriate decisions about such cases. The verdict of the committee is final and binding.
Note 3: The Committee has a duty to produce a report every six months about the progress and status of removal and filtering of unlawful content from computer systems. The reports are to be submitted to the heads of the three branches of state, and the Chairman of the Supreme Council of National Security.
The above Article has set out to clarify the required membership composition of the committee for determining unlawful content, and has explained its duties and remit.
Article 23: “Immediately after receiving the orders and decisions of the committee for determining the unlawful content in computers, or the instructions of the judicial authority in charge of the case about the presence of unlawful content on computer systems, the providers of web hosting services have an obligation to prevent any further access to such content on their systems. If they internationally and purposefully refuse to implement the orders of the said committee or the judicial official in charge, they will be disbanded. However, if they somehow continue to provide access to such material due to their carelessness or genuine mistakes, in the first instance, they will be sentenced to pay a cash fine of 20 million to 100 million rials, and in the second place, the cash fine sentence will range from 100 million to 1 billion rials. Finally, if the crime is perpetrated for a third time, the offender will be closed down temporarily for one to three years.
Note: The providers of web hosting services have a legal obligation to inform the committee for determining the unlawful content in computers the moment they realize that such material is present among the general content they are providing.
According to this Article, immediately after receiving instructions either from the relevant judicial authority or the committee for determining the unlawful content in computers, demanding that such material should become inaccessible to the public, the centres responsible for providing hosting services are legally obliged to take immediate measures to implement these instructions. The law has envisaged two possible situations in connection with the failure of the web hosting centres to remove and filter out the content which has been deemed as unlawful:
A) When the instructions received have been ignored intentionally and on purpose
B) When the instructions have not been heeded due to carelessness or due to genuine mistakes
It can therefore be concluded that the providers of web hosting services are merely responsible in connection with implementing the orders of the committee for determining unlawful content in computers, or the relevant Judicial authority dealing with a specific case. Intentional refusal to heed these orders will bring about the closure of these centres, and failing to implement the said orders due to carelessness or mistakes will lead to a sentence of cash fine payment.
Article 24: “Anyone who uses, without a legal permit, the bandwidth of the international route in order to establish telecommunication links, on the basis of the Internet protocol, between Iran and foreign countries and vice versa, shall be sentenced will be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of one to three years, or to a cash fine of 100 million to 1 billion rials, or both.
The subject matter of the above Article is the establishment of international telecom link through unlawful use of the Internet line bandwidth,
Instances where these punishments may be aggravated have been explained in Article 26 and thereafter, and we referred to these in the first part of this article. The final section of the Cyber Crime Law is mainly about the legal procedures and the methods of investigating and processing cyber crimes in general.
[Conclusion] A careful read of the content of the Cyber Crime Law will point us towards the fact that the legislators had merely sought to pave the way for exercising scrutiny, control and censorship. After all, the content of this law clearly shows that its essence and spirit is fundamentally different from principles and tenets such as the freedom of exchange of information, and the freedom of expression more generally. In reality, by formulating these laws, the legislator has created certain routes and channels for monitoring and invading the private sphere of people’s lives. The law also makes it possible for people with power and influence to meddle in the traffic and exchange of computer and telecommunication data among the ordinary people. Interestingly, the Cyber Crime Law has been approved even though according to the Constitution, censorship, as well as any kind of encroachment and eavesdropping on the private lives of other are prohibited. Unfortunately, when the focus in on safeguarding the authority and interests of the powerful elements in society, then the Constitution, as well as all international commitments, are simply forgotten.
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