What Does Iran Cyber Dialogue Stand For

by Ali Bangi & Anna May

Access to information is important, and in today’s world, this is synonymous with access to the Internet. With the country’s fast-growing tech scene, events inside Iran and around the world cover similar themes on technology, entrepreneurship and opportunities in Iran. So why does ICD matter? The simple answer is that no other event tackles some of the difficult but critical questions related to Internet technology and online access to information in Iran.

Asking the Difficult Questions

A growing startup scene, a highly tech savvy population and investment in ICT development represent opportunities to improve online access to information in the country, even while censorship and sanctions continue to pose major challenges.

Will new mobile apps provide a greater tool for control over citizens through surveillance? Or will it mean a greater ability to connect and exchange ideas with a larger community? Will tech startups cooperate with regulations like ISPs, who are legally required to comply, or can they pave the way for greater privacy protections? These are difficult questions facing Internet communities everywhere, but Iranians also face the added impact of sanctions. Will they continue to impede Iranians’ access to technology, making it tougher for those inside the country to access apps and online services?

Perhaps most importantly, it is the overall relationship between technology and human rights that needs serious examination, especially as tech enthusiasts are eagerly supporting the growth of local startups. Iran Web Festival and iBridge are some examples of great events that are working to nurture Iran’s tech sector through mentorship and other resources. But neither addresses these questions.

When we organized our first ICD in 2013, we gathered a close community of our friends and collaborators, including Iranian groups, tech companies, journalists and researchers working on Iran. The sensitivities of these issues meant that our conversations needed to stay private, largely to protect the personal security of our participants, but also to provide a much needed space for honest conversation among Iranians, tech leaders, researchers, journalists and other global actors.

With our Chatham House rule sessions, we could discuss and share ideas freely. Iranians could speak directly to key influencers, while those who had the power to act could engage with Iranians and learn about their needs first-hand. This is what makes our event so valuable, as a rare opportunity to discuss issues that are rarely brought up elsewhere. Each year, our agenda is shaped by our participants, with session topics suggested and chosen by the ICD community, ensuring that we make time to tackle the most important issues.

From Ideas to Practical Implementation

Our goal is to improve online access to information for Iranians. Access to information is vital for economic growth, education and a vibrant civil society. Our core program of hands-on outcome driven sessions facilitates improved responses for practical implementation. Thanks to a dedicated community of participants, who have brought a range of resources and expertise to this work, ICD has become a launch pad for projects and other innovations that continue beyond the event.

As organizers, we have facilitated a space for conversation, but it is our participants who drive the event, whether by introducing new participants to the community or through their sustained engagement with online access to information issues for Iran. And we are especially grateful to our friends at Citizen Lab, whose Cyber Dialogues provided the inspiration and opportunity to host our first event.

This year, we’re excited and honored to be hosting our third annual event, and very much looking forward to continuing our conversations on ICT development, human rights and diplomacy. A big thank you to all our participants and community members for your commitment and dedication over the years, and we look forward to seeing you soon in Valencia.