Iran  has launched its own “national email service”, requiring all citizens to sign up to it to “safely” communicate with government officials.

Prior to use, account holders will have to provide their local post office with their full name, national identification number and postcode.

Mohammad Hasan Nami, Iran’s minister for information and communication technology, said all citizens would be assigned a national email address, but did not say whether this would affect access to other email providers.

“For mutual interaction and communication between the government and the people, from now on every Iranian will receive a special email address along with their postcode,” Nami was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency.

“With the assignment of an email address to every Iranian, government interactions with the people will take place electronically.”

Users will have to go to to sign up to the service, which is not free, and receive an email address. Mehr reported that the website can provide services to 100 million users and its emailing service is compatible with Farsi as well as English, French and Arabic. Each account is also said to have 50MB capacity, which can be upgraded to 2GB.

Independent experts, however, doubt the plan will materialise across the country as the newly elected president, Hassan Rouhaniwho has taken a softer line on internet and web censorship, is due to be sworn-in in August.

Amin Sabeti, an Iranian media and web researcher, said the authorities had previously boasted about similar “national email services”, including, but none has yet been come into force in earnest. Government employees are also being encouraged to use the national email providers instead of services such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail, which are popular in Iran.

Sabeti said there are serious security problems with the new service, which he said does not encrypt data and would be easy to hack.

Hadi Nili, an Iranian journalist, said Iranians use foreign services such as Gmail because they believe it provides anonymity and privacy, and said there is a lack of trust in the new service.

In an echo of some of the questions about the NSA surveillance by the US government revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, he added: “Iranian users are worried how much the government can access their data and also how secure the new service is in the face of cyber attacks and intrusions from other parties.”

Some 40% of Iran’s 75 million population are estimated to have access to the internet and many services are provided online, such as bill payment and online banking.

Under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has announced various ambitious plans for its online community including an “Islamic Google Earth”.

In 2012, the authorities said they were carrying out tests to launch Iran’s “national internet”, a countrywide network aimed at substituting services run through the world wide web. At the time, Iran’s police also imposed tighter regulations on internet cafes, requiring owners to keep detailed records of their customers each time they use their services.

Iran has been a victim of western-backed cyber attacks against its nuclear programme and is therefore suspicious of western online services such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. In contrast to the current officials, Rouhani has said he considers Facebook a welcome phenomenon.

At least two institutions have been set up in recent years to enforce an online crackdown. Iran’s cyber police, known as Fata, is in charge of policing the country’s online community, identifying bloggers and users breaking its “Islamic” laws. The supreme council of virtual space is another body tasked with blocking access to websites deemed inappropriate. At least five million websites are blocked in Iran.

Last year the death of blogger Sattar Beheshti in jail, while he was being interrogated by Fata forces, prompted a national outcry.

source:  Guardian UK