Last week, Iran deputy minister announced its plans to allow citizens access to a domestic internet network separate from the world wide web to assure security for the government agencies and offices that have access to a “national information network.” With this announcement came the news from another official, identified as Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, the secretary of an internet examination committee, that Google and its related email service,
Gmail, would be blocked until further notice. Khoramabadi's committee is set up to take a look at sites on the internet in search of content deemed illegal or criminal in Iran. This ban is purported to be related to the anti-Islamic film of recent headlines posted on YouTube, stirring up the Muslim world, but the true reason for the ban has not been made public.
The country is no stranger to such bans and other acts of censorship, as Iran's government has taken away access to the internet a handful of times this year. The latest occurrence stripped citizens' access to any encrypted international sites outside of Iran that run on Secure Sockets Layer protocol. Citizens have found ways around this, using proxy servers over Virtual Private Networks to access sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and foreign news sites.
Gmail, Google Blocked Accidentally
A member of the telecommunications ministry committee filtering internet content, Mohammad Reza Miri, says that the ban on Gmail was a mistake. He explained that in attempts to block YouTube, Gmail was accidentally blocked as well, as they don't have “enough technical know-how to differentiate” between the two sites. The HTTPS version of Google was also reintroduced after being blocked for the same reason. Interesting they would say this was all a big mistake, when Khorababadi was quoted as saying last week, “Google and Gmail will be filtered nationwide...until further notice.”
Miri and Khoramabadi can agree on one thing: the country absolutely wants to block access to YouTube. The country began censoring the site since 2009, after demonstrators protesting the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad due to the belief that the results were rigged began posting videos of their gatherings on YouTube. Ever since then, the site has been censored.
Holding Google Accountable for Anti-Islam Film?
It seems as if the country is boycotting the brand across the board for the anti-Islam video that created intense controversy and violent protests worldwide. In fact, a member of Iran's High Council on Cyberspace, Kamyar Saghafi, was quoted as saying the ban against Google and its related services was “to boycott” the company as a whole for allowing the posting of the video on YouTube.
With 34 million users of the internet across Iran, these restrictions placed on Gmail and Google search had many across the country complaining. Hossein Entezami, representative of newspaper directors on Iran's press monitoring commission, said these actions prove policy-makers know little of the needs of their people. “You can't just close a search engine and a form of communication for the people,” he said when the ban was enacted.
The Iran Internet
Soon, Iran will complete work on their own censored version of the internet. Officials claim it will not replace the filtered internet of today, but rather coexist alongside it. Its purpose: to provide a virtual place free of anti-Islamic content and sentiments. It remains to be seen whether or not this idea will do any good, possibly preventing a fiasco such as the events following the release of the anti-Islamic video