National data centers comprise an important part of the infrastructure of the NIN. These centers are responsible for data storage, maintenance and processing, and maintaining the space for hosting websites in the country, online email communications, domestic messaging services and all communications between government and non-government organizations and users inside Iran.
The data centers were privatized under the Rouhani administration, but again, the term private sector is imprecise in the Iranian context, including in the technology sector. Most ostensibly private companies are either at least partly state-owned or owned by parastatal parent organizations. Iranian officials have stated that foreign companies have expressed interest in participating in launching the data centers. Communications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi told Fars News Agency in February 2015, “In the post-sanctions negotiations, the Chinese company Huawei asked to build data centers in our country and Iran agreed with the request.”
The ownership and state affiliation of the Iranian companies connected with these data centers is unknown. This lack of transparency raises security concerns because it means the nature of the state’s continued involvement, if not control, is not known. Data centers play a central role in the maintenance of data for web hosting, email, and cloud processing, and are responsible for storing and protecting users’ online information and communications. Given the record of online surveillance and hacking by Iran’s security and intelligence organizations, any potential state involvement in or access to these data centers raises troubling security issues. Indeed, the aforementioned case in which state officials ordered a hosting company to delete the Memari News website’s content after it reported on corruption in the Tehran municipality bodes poorly for the security implications of these data centers.