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Media Watch | More Signs of Walls Closing In on Iranians' Internet Access

by DAN GEIST

21 Apr 2012 02:02Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

YouTubeFiltered.jpg While Minister of Information and Communications Technology Reza Taghipour again denied reports that Iran plans to cut off access to the global Internet and establish a separate national intranet, there were new signs this week that the Islamic Republic intends to intensify censorship of the World Wide Web and create an online environment over which it can exercise greater control.

Just a week ago, the Information Ministry claimed that a statement attributed to Taghipour that detailed imminent plans to establish a "clean," exclusively Iranian or "Halal Intranet" was a hoax perpetrated by "the propaganda wing of the west."

Now, Ars Technica reports on an RFI (request for information) posted on the website of Tehran's Research Institute for Information and Communications Technology, which is closely linked to Taghipour's ministry; the RFI requests bids for the "creation of a comprehensive Internet purifying system that works based on analysis of Web content." Ars Technica spoke with Collin Anderson, the Washington, D.C.-based Internet surveillance researcher who discovered the RFI, which set Thursday as the deadline for submission of bids:

"I believe this clearly demonstrates that the Iranian government does not intend on cutting off access to the external Internet time soon," Anderson told Ars on Tuesday, explaining that the acquisition of a censorship system would not be necessary if Iran was trying to create a highly restricted whitelist or completely cut itself off from the Internet.

"This might suggest that the government has not been able to acquire the services of foreign companies for planning and optimizing an infrastructure," he added.

"This is surprising for those, including me, who believe that much of the censorship software and hardware was being developed internally. The RFI seems to imply the desire to move beyond blacklisting sites and keywords, to a more intelligent system of detecting and blocking 'immoral' content, such as pornographic or culturally offensive material."

While there may be no immediate plans to entirely eliminate ordinary Iranians' access to the Internet, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Golnaz Esfandiari writes,

Internet experts have told RFE/RL that Iran appears to be moving into a dual Internet system that would include a fast national network and a heavily filtered and slow Internet.

Last week, the French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders reported that Mohammad Solimaninya, an Internet and social network expert who has been detained for the past three months, is under "intense" pressure by the Iranian government to work on the national Internet project.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, Deputy Minister of Information and Communications Technology Ali Hakim Javadi announced that Iran will unveil its own Internet search engine before the end of the year. According to a report by the semiofficial Mehr News Agency, via Radio Zamaneh, Javadi stated,

"Our information technology organization, as in many other countries that use a native search engine in line with local cultural and social needs, emphasizes the need to launch a national search engine."

[...] Taghipour has spoken about the launch of a national search engine on several occasions. Last July, Taghipour indicated that Iran will use China's and South Korea's extensive experience in this area to develop its own national search engine.

Iranian authorities have always expressed suspicion about the Google and Yahoo search engines, and some have even referred to them as spying tools used by Iran's enemies.

The government has already set up an Iran webmail system; registrants are required to submit their full names, phone numbers, and mailing addresses. There are suspicions that the creation of the state-controlled email system signals the government's intention to permanently cut off all access to popular services such as Google's Gmail, Microsoft's Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail, which are already routinely blocked.

FacebookDangerAV.jpgSocial media is another online phenomenon of great concern to Iran's rulers, for whom, as the Guardian reports, Facebook
has become another symbol of the west's "soft war" against the Islamic Republic.

Government anxieties about social networking featured in a military parade held in the central-Iranian city of Isfahan on Tuesday to mark Iran's Army Day.

In the course of the procession, military vehicles bore oversized placards labelled "instances of soft war", the first of which was headed "damages of the Facebook internet site".

It was followed by displays accusing western powers of "promoting bad hejab" (a reference to the sartorial choices of secular Iranian women), and encouraging "new addiction: shisha, cocaine, crack, and paan". (Shisha is Iranian slang for crystal meth, and crack refers to the least pure form of heroin, rather than crack-cocaine).

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps last month announced that it had established a new, sealed-off communications network for its commanders called Basir (Perspective). According to an article in a Guard periodical, "The armed forces had no trust in the telecommunication equipment produced by other countries. So, an indigenous multilayer nationwide system was designed and built."

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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