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Iran’s Internet Crackdown

Erin Dwyer

Iranians were denied access to their e-mail accounts and popular social networking websites last week as state censorship increased in preparation for the anniversary celebration of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The restrictions blocked 30 million Iranians from accessing websites such as Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo in a preventative measure to avert potential anti-government opposition forces from interrupting celebrations.

Similar censorship could previously be thwarted using software programs such as TOR, which allows users to circumvent government filters while hiding IP addresses. However, such tools have recently become ineffective as secure browsing and virtual private networking software has also been blocked.

Iranian women at an Internet cafe in Tehran.

In a mission that would isolate its 36 million Internet users, the Iranian government is working on creating a “pure” national intranet system for the Islamic Republic. Until this is possible new laws force Iranians to present a photo ID and their full names at Internet cafes where workers are required to track the websites visited by users. Businesses that fail to comply with new regulations will be shut down. Furthermore, Iran’s special police unit dedicated to combating “cyber crimes” closely monitors social networking sites, which were used against the state in 2009 as a tool to organize protests disputing the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian officials have justified their Internet crackdown as necessary to prevent U.S. companies, such as Twitter, Google, and Microsoft, from helping U.S. authorities spy on Iranian citizens. However, the crackdown more likely illustrates the regime’s fear of a repeat of the June 2009 Green Revolution, in which the world witnessed horrific government oppression. Since the free world stood by and watched the Iranian regime murder peaceful protesters, the year of Arab upheaval brought down several Arab regimes. The rulers in Tehran are no doubt eager to prevent any outside intervention should the world become too moved by images of another brutal crackdown.