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Signal is reportedly under attack by Iranian authorities as interest rises amid speculation that the government already has access to user information on other popular messaging apps.

According to Al Jazeera, many users of the privacy-focused messaging app in Iran reported have not been able to connect since Signal took the top spot in the Google Play Store in the country this month. The app has already been removed from the Iranian app stores Cafe Bazaar and Myket.

In a tweet, Signal claimed it was “# 1 on the Iranian government’s blocklist” and worked to circumvent the country’s censorship efforts.

The report says a committee of Iranian officials charged with identifying “criminal content” has labeled Signal as a threat. However, a government spokesman also claimed that the judiciary “had not blocked or intended to block any media, news or messaging services”.

Iran faced a host of widespread civilian protests in November 2019 amid the economic hardship caused by US sanctions, allegations of government corruption, a increase in fuel price, and later of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many social media posts at the time showed that Iranian authorities were killing protesters, causing the government to shut down the internet to almost everyone in the country for days.

Residents of Iran can now send messages via WhatsApp and Instagram, but many speculate that the government has gained access to the apps, which do not actually provide privacy. Iranian authorities are currently blocking Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Telegram, the latter of which is reportedly takes 60% of the country’s internet bandwidth.

Although Iran tried to block Telegram in 2018 amid violent authorities ‘responses to authorities’ protesters, many residents have been able to get around these restrictions with VPNs. The app is still widely used in the country under these circumstances, but privacy remains a concern as rumors spread that the government may even have access to Telegram.

Alex Gladstein of the Human Rights Foundation has said privacy tools like Signal have been used by similar movements in the United States – most notably the Black Lives Matter protests – “as a way to stay safe from police surveillance.” He believed that anyone living under a dictatorship probably needs privacy, and consequently demonizing Signal in a democratic country could lead to a larger police state fueled by “mass surveillance to combat extremism”.

Digital rights researcher Amir Rashidi echoed this sentiment in the Al Jazeera report about the attempt to shut down Signal:

“Traditionally, if the Iranian government can’t figure out what’s going on or who is doing what, they fear people might do something against the government.”