Iran is currently seeing some of its heaviest Internet restrictions since the aftermath of the disputed 2009 Presidential elections.
As parliamentary elections slated for the 2nd of March draw closer, Iran continues to tighten its grasp on the ability for information to flow freely from the Internet to its citizens. Not yet launching a rumored “country intranet” which would effectively sever connections between the Iran citizenry and the outside world, the Islamic Republic has shuttered access to popular e-mail services GMail, Yahoo Mail, and Microsoft’s Hotmail, as well to preeminent social networks Facebook and Twitter. Thus far no explanation has been offered to citizens as to why the sites are inaccessible or when they might become view-able again – if ever.
At present, more technically savvy Iranians are able to circumvent the restrictions by using VPN servers hosted elsewhere in the world, or proxy connections – indicating that the websites are being filtered at the Internet Service Provider level. As soon as Iran completes its alleged new Intranet infrastructure, evading the Iranian censors will become significantly more difficult:
Last month the country’s information minister told the Islamic Republic News Agency that a firewalled national Internet would soon become operational. There was no word on when the government might plan to throw the switch on what essentially would be a vast “intranet,” but it could happen any day. And that prospect has cyber activists in Iran concerned. It would give the government a hand up in its cyber cat-and-mouse battle with opponents.
Right now, if Iran now blocks proxy servers and VPN connections for more than a few days, companies with branches or headquarters in the country are cut off from communicating with fellow employees around the world other than by telephone. That forces the government to open the spigot for everyone. Once the new network goes into effect, ordinary Iranians would wake up to a more censored Internet.
“I don’t know the the infrastructure that they will use but I don’t think we have a way out of that one,” said the Iranian person. “We are getting closer and closer to North Korea.”
Unplugging the country from the Internet became a key weapon in trying to fight protesters from getting the word out about the goings on inside the country after the highly controversial 2009 Presidential election that saw a new term awarded to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even though a large percentage of the citizenry believed Mir Hossein Mousavi was the actual victor. Violent Iranian repression of its people in the weeks and months after were broadcast to the world via YouTube – and when simple blocks were not working well enough for the country, Iran shuttered all access to the Internet for days at a time. Business interests in the country were severely harmed by the lack of communication with the outside world, and could be hurt yet again if Iran moves forward with the nationwide “intranet” scheme.
The moves thus far are drawing the ire of politicians within the country, though:
But the Mehr news agency said the restrictions were not related only to email.
“It has been a while that Internet users have had difficulty accessing domestic and news websites as well as foreign search engines and email services,” it said on its website.
These difficulties include “low speed, outage and blocking” of websites, Mehr said.
A top conservative lawmaker, Ahmad Tavakoli, criticised the new “annoying” filtering and said it should be explained.
“The new filtering measure and cutting of access to the services used by most people without prior notice… will raise the ire of educated” people, he told Mehr.
“Such annoying filtering will cost the regime dearly.”
It remains to be seen if the government will speak out publicly about this issue at all before the legislative elections, or if the Internet restrictions will have any real impact on those elections.