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16 Jan 2023

Gary Miller, Noura Al-Jizawi, Ksenia Ermoshina, Marcus Michaelsen, Zoe Panday, Genny Plumptre, Adam Senft, and Ron Deibert, Citizen Lab

You move, they follow: uncovering Iran's mobile legal intercept system

A confidential source sent the online news organization, The Intercept, a series of internal documents and communications providing details on what appear to be plans to develop and launch an Iranian mobile network, including subscriber management operations and services, and integration with a legal intercept solution...

Key Findings

  • Iran CRA [Communications Regulatory Authority] regulations state that all telecom operators in Iran must provide the CRA with direct access to their system for retrieving user information and changing their services...
  • The CRA’s Legal Intercept system uses APIs to integrate directly into mobile service providers’ operational systems, including acquiring detailed data on service ordering, service fulfillment, and billing history stored in the service provider data warehouse...
  • This type of state-sponsored system used to directly manage the operations of independent mobile networks in a country is extremely rare in the modern mobile communications industry. If implemented fully as envisioned in the documents we reviewed, it would enable state authorities to directly monitor, intercept, redirect, degrade or deny all Iranians’ mobile communications, including those who are presently challenging the regime.
  • Documents indicate that firms based in Russia, the United Kingdom (UK), and Canada engaged in extensive discussions to provide commercial services and technology to support Iran’s Legal Intercept requirements of mobile surveillance, service control, and account management. While the documents we reviewed did not include fully executed agreements, the negotiations among the key stakeholders were advanced and revealed extensive details about Iran’s legal intercept system and the type of services and technologies that would be provisioned from the private sector to support it.