The Iranian regime may be losing its battle to filter content on the internet, but meanwhile it is trying new things – from slowing down internet speeds, to developing a so-called “national internet” or “clean internet”. (read Intranet). Iranian members of parliament have also discussed a proposal to place blogs, comments and SMS mobile messages under the same government regulation as the mainstream media.
Creative alternatives to filtering?
Iranian authorities see the internet as a real battleground and consider citizen media and social networking as tools of “soft war”. Over several years they claim to have blocked and filtered millions of websites and blogs. Now several bloggers have reported [fa] that Iran's Corporate Computer Systems [fa] say the goal is for Iran to be entirely cut off from the World Wide Web once the country launches its own national internet network.
In October, many bloggers were happy to quote a remark by a top official who said, “Filtering is useless.” Mehdi Jafari, described as the technology director for the Student Basij Organization (youth paramilitaries supporting the Islamic regime), claimedthat 17 million Iranians are on Facebook even though the site has been filtered in Iran… and that “300,000 Persian language websites are fighting against our religious and national beliefs.”
Jafari did not mention a source for these statistics.
Iranian blogger Ghalbir quoted the Basij leader and says it proves that filtering is a joke.
At the end of October the semi-official news agency, Mehr, reported on interruptions and extreme slowness of internet around the country. Several bloggers, including Azari quoted from a story that said the majority of Iran's 36.5 million internet users rely on dial-up internet to be connected with 56k speeds… but that it had become even slower or inaccessible with no explanation from the authorities.
Reza Taghipour, the Minister of Information and Communication Technology eventually offered a response, saying the internet slowdown was due to infrastructure changes necessary for developing a “clean internet” [another name for the planned "national internet"].
Introducing the “Clean Internet”
In the past months, Iranian bloggers have reacted to several media reports of plans for the “clean internet” or “national internet”. Blogger Uniirani says [fa] The Islamic Republic’s decision is a big leap towards transforming into North Korea. Another blogger, Visionthetruth, said [fa] that after the internet is nationalised, it will be the turn of satellites.
For all the years that a national internet project has been discussed, Iranian media agreed on at least one thing: there is a cloud of ambiguity over project.
Donayeh Eghtesad, an Iran-based newspaper, wrote [fa] in 2010:
The project was an initiative of Ahmadinejad’s government five years ago and it has still four years to go before it becomes operational… there is a curtain of ambiguity on this project. It is not clear what, where, how and who is going to use the national internet… The Minister of Communication and Technology, Reza Taghipour, says the national internet will be a broadband, fast network inside the country to answer the government’s electronic needs… at present, the internet for households is provided by private companies, but the Ministry of Communication is researching the possibility of doing it by itself.
Two years earlier, Hamshari, an Iran-based news website, wrote that a “national internet” is an ambiguous term. They quote a media expert who says that if this project aims for 100 per cent filtering and casting away of the international internet, it is neither useful nor operational.
So whose darling is the national internet? Ahmadinejad’s government, without a doubt. According to Hamshari, the Iranian parliament refused [fa] to give an initial $10 million in funds five years ago, forcing the government to seek other financing.
As if the idea of a “National internet” was not ambiguous enough, the Iranian Minister of Communication, Reza Taghipour, launched another term: “Clean internet”. Taghipour used [fa] used the term as early as December 2010. He said they wished to shield the internet from dirty actions and protect human beings. He said that at first, the internet was created for peaceful purposes, but now there are black spots in it. The Ministry of Communication say [fa] the clean internet won’t contain any immoral content or content encouraging atheism, divisive controversies, nor hopelessness.
Alireza Shirazi, the founder of a leading blogging software provider, says it is not clear what a clean internet is, but that if the idea bears fruit, there will most likely be no Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Myspace… or any of the currently filtered sites on it. He explains the difference between a filtering system and this clean internet idea. For the former, there is a blacklist (filtered sites), but for latter there will be only a white list (limiting the internet to permitted sites).
Now with talk of a clean internet or even a Halal internet, we could also just call it a virtual Frankenstein. Call it whatever you want, but the fact remains that as the regime swings its clenched fist over the Iranian internet, sometimes it hits its targets and other times it misses.