Iraq To Satellite Companies: Please Turn Off The Islamic State’s Internet

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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A crucial part of Islamic State operations in Syria and Iraq depends on access to the Internet, but Iraq is now pressuring satellite firms to cut off ISIS’ connection to the outside world.

ISIS heavily relies on social media services like Twitter and encrypted communications like Telegram to send its message out to supporters, Reuters reports. Aside from communication with friendlies, ISIS also continues to use video sites to upload copious amounts of propaganda designed to galvanize its own side and intimidate the West.

Twitter and Telegram have tried to crack down on ISIS, but despite their best efforts, ISIS has evaded bans and established new accounts. Iraq has taken the communications fight to the next level by contacting satellite companies directly and asking them to stop providing Internet services. ISIS has to use satellite technology because the fixed line infrastructure is incredibly limited and mobile networks no longer work in large areas of ISIS-held territory, which has a population size of five million.

So far, these satellite providers appear amenable to talks with Iraqi officials, though the process will take some amount of time. One possibility mentioned by Der Spiegel is that western intelligence agencies are fully aware of ISIS’ use of satellite connections and are in contact with companies to closely monitor all communications sent and received by the group.

But one of the major challenges is that it’s not clear how to differentiate between ISIS militants using the network and civilians who just happen to live under ISIS-controlled territory.

“Would cutting off such communications have a major impact in disrupting and degrading Islamic State’s operations, or would it mostly just make the lives of people living under Islamic State even more difficult?” Rafaello Pantucci, who works at the Royal United Services Institute in Britain, told Reuters.

Communication company Avanti told Reuters it does not keep on file the identity or location of subscribers. Since resellers are intimately involved in the distribution process, satellite companies don’t always know who ultimately receives the equipment.

While satellite companies apparently do not engage in monitoring on their end, ISIS has shut down private Internet access in many of the cities it controls, placing civilian access in Internet cafes where the group can closely examine browsing history. This helps ensure that civilians—and even militants—only view ISIS propaganda and have limited access to outside information.

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