Porn, Death, and the Internet in Iran

Summary:Iran continues to close it doors to the Internet while alienating the rest of the world with its proposed execution of a Web developer, saber rattling, and Internet censorship.

Google statistics show Iran still censoring Gmail.

Google statistics show Iran still censoring Gmail.

What is it with Iran? Do they want to alienate the entire world? As Violet Blue reports, Iran is getting ready to execute Web developer Saeed Malekpour for allegedly building and maintaining porn websites. What he really did was help write a script that's part of generic Web photo uploader. At the same time, Iran boasts of further nuclear enrichment advances; seems to be attempting terrorist attacks; and is saber rattling in Persian Gulf. What do Iranian citizens think about this? It's hard to say. Iran is continuing to censor the Internet.

For more than a week now, Iran has locked down almost all Internet services that use the HTTPS protocol for security. Google has confirmed that Iran started blocking such services as Gmail and YouTube starting on February 10th. This may have been to stop protests on the anniversary of the arrest of Green movement leaders Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi on February 14th for contesting the results of the disputed 2009 presidential vote. In addition, Iran will be holding parliamentary elections on March 2nd.

Iran makes no pretense about trying to censor the Internet. Government officials say, for example, that Google offers Iranians “online criminal content." Amin Sabeti, a British Iranian IT blogger, said the Iranian government wanted to create its own version of the Internet because it viewed the Internet as an enemy. According to the New York Times, Mr. Sabeti said, “One of the members of Iran’s Internet filtering council said Google is using SSL and we cannot monitor it, therefore we’ve blocked Gmail and Google’s services.”

Indeed they are. Google Transparency Reports for Gmail in Iran shows that while some e-mail started flowing again by February 12 . However, even now, Iran's Gmail traffic is far below its normal rates.

Besides using a firewall to block traffic, Iran has taken more direct action against Internet users. Public Internet sites, such as coffee houses, are also being clamped down on. The Wall Street Journal reports that in January the Iranian government ordered Internet cafes to “install security cameras, start collecting detailed personal information on customers and document users' online footprints.”

Iranian Internet users are fighting back as best they can. According to AnchorFree, creators of HotSpot Shield, a virtual private network (VPN) service designed to “designed specifically to get around dynamic blocking, or play the cat and mouse game with censors,” such as those now being used in the Iranian  national firewall, they've seen a ten fold increase in Iranian users since July 2011 "from about 35,000 to 366,000 today. AnchorFree is also on track to do about 30 percent more pageviews in Iran this month vs. last. What's interesting is that AnchorFree isn't doing any paid marketing in that region, so this growth has been completely viral, with users either forwarding software to each other or getting it from third-party sites that haven't been blocked.”

So, as ever, the Internet is routing around damage. In this case, the damage caused by government censorship. That won't do Malekpour any good though. He seems destined to be executed shortly for creating an image upload program that just happens to be used by some porn sites.

On the outside looking in, we can only speculate what Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thinks he's doing. Perhaps by trying to make the rest of the world Iran's enemy he hopes to preserve his own power. Certainly by trying to cut off the Iranian people's access to the Internet, he's doing his best to keep his people from realizing how Iran is becoming see as a barbarian state that would execute innocents in the name of anti-pornographic censorship.

Related Stories:

Iran’s Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

Iran cuts off access to popular Web sites

Iran blocks Internet access

Iran set to execute Web developer

Topics: Browser, Collaboration

About

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, aka sjvn, has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the cutting edge, PC operating system; 300bps was a fast Internet connection; WordStar was the state of the art word processor; and we liked it.His work has been published in everything from highly technical publications... Full Bio

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