[Marxism] The Halal Internet

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 13 08:11:31 MDT 2011


Iran tightens online censorship to counter US 'shadow internet'

Tehran fury at 'internet in a suitcase' prompts upgrade to web 
filtering system blocking forbidden websites

by Saeed Kamali Dehghan

Iran has stepped up online censorship by upgrading the filtering 
system that enables the Islamic regime to block access to 
thousands of websites it deems inappropriate for Iranian users.

The move comes one month after the United States announced plans 
to launch new services facilitating internet access and mobile 
phone communications in countries with tight controls on freedom 
of speech, a decision that infuriated Tehran's regime and prompted 
harsh reactions from several Iranian officials.

The upgrade had at first appeared as a relaxation of the 
censorship machine. Iran's online community said on Monday that 
filtering was temporarily lifted for the entire country, giving 
users access to banned websites such as Twitter and Facebook. But 
hopes for an end to censorship were dashed when news agencies 
reported later in the day that the respite was due to the process 
of making the upgrade.

Despite the filtering, many Iranians access blocked addresses with 
help from proxy websites or virtual private network (VPN) 
services. The upgrade is aimed at stopping users bypassing censorship.

More than 5 million websites are filtered in Iran. Media 
organisations including the Guardian, BBC and CNN are blocked, 
though access to the New York Times website is allowed. On Google, 
the Farsi equivalents for words such as "condom", "sex", "lesbian" 
and "anti-filtering" are filtered out.

Iran is believed to be worried about the influence of the internet 
and especially social networking websites as pro-democracy 
activists across the Middle East use them to promote and publicise 
their movements.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency quoted an unnamed official 
as saying: "The ministry of communications and information 
technology is strengthening the filtering system and recent 
disruptions were the result of this upgrade."

At the same time, Nasimonline.ir, an agency that publishes short 
Twitter-style bursts of news, said it had received information 
that "a new filtering system that targets Google and Yahoo search 
engines" had been installed and tested on Monday.

"I think that the new upgrade in the filtering system is a signal 
from Iran that the regime is prepared to stop any attempt by the 
US to challenge the country's online censorship," said an Iranian 
who spoke to the Guardian by phone from Tehran on condition of 

The New York Times reported last month that the Obama 
administration is leading a global effort to deploy what is known 
as "shadow internet" or "internet in a suitcase" by spending $2m 
(£1.25m) on secretive projects to create "independent cellphone 
networks inside foreign countries". The aim is to provide services 
that allow "wireless communication over a wide area with a link to 
the global internet" in support of dissidents in countries that 
have tightened their grip on freedom of speech.

In reaction to the US move, Iran's intelligence minister, Heidar 
Moslehi, was quoted by Fars as saying: "We had predicted these 
actions, such as the internet in suitcase, and we have planned 
proper ways to combat them."

In an interview with the semi-official Mehr news agency, Iran's 
minister for communications and information technology, Reza 
Taghipour, accused the US of "cyber terrorism" for its plans to 
launch "internet in suitcase".

In April, the Tehran government announced that it intended to 
launch "halal internet", a country-wide intranet and a parallel 
network that conforms to Islamic values with the ultimate goal of 
substituting for the global internet.

Iran's opposition believe that Iran is buying its filtering 
technology from China. In September 2009 Iran's powerful 
Revolutionary Guards, a body under the direct control of the 
supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, purchased 51% of the 
Telecommunications Company of Iran, which monitors internet 
filtering in the country.

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