The Iranian government has given Apple an ultimatum: register with the country’s anti-smuggling office now, or all iPhones will be banned and confiscated. The demand comes as part of Iran’s plans to create a database of every cell phone in the country under the guise of blocking smuggling.
Iran has millions of iPhone users, according to the Japan Times, and those devices typically come into the country through smugglers. The government’s solution is to build a database linking every phone sold to a person, and to block unregistered phones from the cell network.
Iranian mobile service providers and the union of mobile phone sellers is cooperating, but so far Apple isn’t on board. Unless Apple complies, there may be far fewer iPhones in the country.
The director from Iran’s anti-smuggling office said, “If Apple will not register an official representative in Iran within the next few days, all iPhones will be collected from the market.”
The database could help cut down on the number of phones smuggled into the country, but is also fraught with potential for human rights abuse. Iran has a track record of prohibiting free speech, jailing journalists and human rights advocates, maiming, and execution. A registry of every smartphone in the country could be a powerful tool in the government’s systematic repression of rights.
Considering Apple’s strong pro-privacy stance, it’s hard to see the company willfully complying with the anti-smuggling regulation. Apple must also contend with U.S. sanctions against Iran. Lawmakers have discussed lifting the sanctions, but Democrats in the House of Representatives are pushing to keep them in place longer.
Complying with Iran’s demands would let everyone who already has an iPhone keep using theirs, while at the same time running afoul of U.S. sanctions and giving Iran another tool to potentially suppress rights. Resisting means millions of Iranians could lose their smartphones and their link to the world beyond their borders.
The Mac Observer reached out to Apple asking how the company plans to handle the situation. We’ll report back once Apple responds.