Internet censorship in Iran

In the first few years of the 21st century, Iran experienced a great surge in Internet usage, and, with 20 million people on the Internet, currently has the second highest percentage of its population online in the Middle East, after Israel. When initially introduced, the Internet services provided by the government within Iran were comparatively open. Many users saw the Internet as an easy way to get around Iran's strict press laws. [Feuilherade, P. (2002.) [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/not_in_website/syndication/monitoring/media_reports/2183573.stm "Iran's banned press turns to the net"] . "BBC.com". Retrieved December 9, 2006.] BBC News. (2003.) [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3019695.stm "Iran Steps Up Net Censorship"] . "BBC.com". Retrieved December 9, 2006.] With the election of Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, and the start of the 2nd of Khordad reform movement, a clampdown occurred that worsened after the election of conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. Iran is now considered to be one of the most repressive Internet-censorship regimes in the world.

Many bloggers, online activists, and technical staff have faced jail terms, harassment and abuse. [Amnesty International. (2004.) [http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE130452004?open&of=ENG-IRN "Iran: Civil society activists and human rights defenders under attack"] . "AmnestyInternational.org. Retrieved December 9, 2006.] [Reporters Without Borders. (2005.) [http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=12636 "Reporters Without Borders welcomes release of blogger Arash Sigarchi"] "RSF.com". Retrieved December 9, 2006.] In November 2006, Iran was one of 13 countries labeled "enemies of the internet" by activist group Reporters Without Borders.Tait, R. (2006.) [http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1963099,00.html "Censorship fears rise as Iran blocks access to top websites"] . "The Guardian UK". Retrieved December 9, 2006.]

Recently, the Iran government required all Iranians to register their web sites in Ministry of art and culture. They also plan to filter all other websites up to March 2007 SAMANDEHI [http://www.SAMANDEHI.IR] ] .

Internet service providers

Every ISP must be approved by both the Telecommunication Company of Iran and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and must implement content-control software for websites and e-mail. ISPs face heavy penalties if they do not comply with the government filter lists. At least twelve ISPs have been shut down for failing to install adequate filters. [Reporters Without Borders. [http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=10733 "Report on Iran"] . Retrieved December 9, 2006.] The state blacklist consists of about 15,000 websites forbidden by the Iranian government. Before subscribers can access Internet service providers, they must first promise in writing not to access "non-Islamic" sites.OpenNet Initiative. (2006.) [http://www.opennetinitiative.net/studies/iran/ "Internet Filtering in Iran in 2004-2005: A Country Study"] . Retrieved December 9, 2006.]

oftware

The primary engine of Iran's censorship is the content-control software SmartFilter, developed by San Jose firm Secure Computing. However, Secure denies ever having sold the software to Iran, and alleges that Iran is illegally using the software without a license.Knight, W. (2005.) [http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn7589 "Iranian net censorship powered by US technology"] . "The New Scientist." Retrieved December 9, 2006.]

As of 2006, Iran's SmartFilter is configured to filter local Persian-language sites, and block prominent English-language sites, such as the websites for the New York Times, Amazon.com, IMDB.com, AmnestyInternational.org, Blogger and Facebook.

The software effectively blocks access to most pornographic sites, gay and lesbian sites, reformist political sites, news media, sites that provide tools to help users cloak their Internet identity, and other sites nebulously defined as immoral on various grounds. Iran censors more Internet sites than any other nation except China.

The Kurdish version of Wikipedia was blocked for several months in 2006 , according to Reporters Without Borders. [ [http://www.voanews.com/uspolicy/2006-12-12-voa10.cfm Iran Cracks Down On Internet Use] ]

American proxy server

Iranians can sometimes access forbidden sites through proxy servers, although these machines can be blocked as well. In 2003, the United States began providing a free proxy server to Iranian citizens through its IBB service Voice of America with Internet privacy company Anonymizer, Inc. The proxy website changes whenever the Iranian government blocks it.

However, even the U.S. proxy filters pornographic websites and keywords. "There's a limit to what taxpayers should pay for," an IBB program manager was quoted as saying. [Poulson, K. (2003.) [http://www.theregister.co.uk/2003/08/29/us_sponsors_anonymiser_if_you/ "US sponsors Anonymiser – if you live in Iran"] . "The Register UK". Retrieved December 9, 2006.] The forbidden keywords are controversial--banning "gay" effectively bars access to a host of gay and lesbian sites--and have had unintended consequences. The banning of "ass", for example, blocks access to the website of the [http://usembassy.state.gov United States Embassy] . [McCullagh, D. (2004.) [http://news.com.com/2010-1028_3-5204405.html "U.S. blunders with keyword blacklist"] . "CNET News.com" Retrieved December 9, 2006.] A complete list of the blacklisted keywords on the American server can be found [http://www.opennetinitiative.net/advisories/001/words.html here] .

Internet connection speed restrictions

In October 2006, the Iranian government ordered all ISPs to limit their download speeds to 128kbit/s for all residential clients and internet cafes. Although no reason for the decree was given, it is widely believed the move was designed to reduce the amount of western media (e.g. films and music) entering the country. [Reuters. (2006.) [http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=internetNews&storyID=2006-10-18T143910Z_01_BLA852298_RTRUKOC_0_US-IRAN-INTERNET.xml&WTmodLoc=InternetNewsHome_C2_internetNews-1 "Iran cuts Internet speeds to homes, cafes""] . "Reuters.com".] There is also a newfound state awareness of how domestically produced content considered undesirable can pervade the internet, highlighted by the 2006 controversy over the appearance of a celebrity sex tape featuring a popular Iranian soap opera actress (or a convincing look-alike). ("See the Iranian sex tape scandal")

References


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