Iraq, a country in Western Asia, is known for its rich history and diverse cultural heritage, but it has also been a battleground for various conflicts over the years. With a complex political landscape, the state of internet freedom, surveillance, and privacy in Iraq is equally intricate. While the internet is widely accessible, the government has shown a willingness to restrict online freedoms, especially during periods of civil unrest.
Freedom of Expression and Censorship
Freedom of expression in Iraq is a contentious issue, both offline and online. The Iraqi government has been known to shut down the internet or block social media platforms, particularly during times of protests or political instability. For example, during the 2019 protests, the Iraqi government imposed widespread internet blackouts to quell the movement. The Iraqi Penal Code includes vague “morality” clauses, which have been used to suppress free speech, including online content that criticizes the government, religious beliefs, or societal norms. Journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens face threats, intimidation, and sometimes even violent attacks for expressing dissenting opinions.
Iraq has a documented history of government surveillance that extends to the digital sphere. The Information Crimes Law, proposed in 2012 but not yet enacted, includes provisions that could legalize a broad range of surveillance activities without adequate judicial oversight. Intelligence agencies have reportedly employed a range of surveillance technologies, including deep packet inspection, to monitor citizen activities online. The lack of a comprehensive data protection law further exacerbates the issue, leaving citizens with little legal recourse against unwarranted surveillance.
Social Media Access and Data Retention
Social media platforms are widely used in Iraq, but they are also subject to government censorship and monitoring. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp have been temporarily blocked during times of civil unrest, as seen in the 2019 protests. While there are no specific data retention laws, telecommunications companies are reportedly required to cooperate with the government in providing user data for investigations.
Impact on Privacy and Security
The absence of robust privacy laws leaves Iraqi citizens vulnerable to both governmental and non-governmental threats. Cybersecurity is a growing concern, especially given the country’s political instability and the presence of various armed groups. In this volatile environment, the misuse of surveillance technologies and data breaches pose a significant risk to personal privacy and security.
In Iraq, the internet serves as a critical space for public discourse but is also subject to government restrictions and surveillance. The country’s laws and policies lack the necessary safeguards for ensuring the privacy and security of its citizens. As Iraq navigates its complex socio-political landscape, the challenge remains to establish a balanced approach that respects internet freedom while providing necessary protections for its citizens.