For quite some time, Iran has been working on a tedious project deemed the “Halal Internet,” a national Internet of sorts, that will vehemently censor all information passing through its routers, servers, hardware and nodes. Iran had planned to launch its new Internet in February, but due to unspecified complications, has pushed the date to sometime in May.
Many are concerned that strict implementation of Iran’s internet censorship will essentially cut its people off from the rest of the world by not allowing any foreign information to be received. “The big question for observers is what a nationwide intranet would look like. After examining chatter from cybersecurity experts, Iranian expat boards, and Western Iran watchers, the general consensus is … Iran’s national Internet is more like an intranet, basically a walled garden similar to AOL or Compuserve back in those services’ golden years. The only catch? Instead of operating with the goal of getting as many subscriber fees as possible, the “Halal Internet” will exist with the goal of making it difficult for ordinary Iranians to communicate with the larger world.
Iran’s national intranet is specifically designed not to allow users to access websites outside of the country. They will have extensive built-in logging capabilities, with control of top-level network infrastructure lying in the hands of the government. The government and affiliated institutions will serve as primary content providers, and content creation by individual users will be heavily monitored. Pornography and content deemed critical to the Iranian government will be forbidden. Internet users inside Iran have seen several surprise service disruptions and government announcements in recent days” (Fast Company).
Over the past several weeks, complaints about the current state of Iran’s Internet began surfacing. On February 20, Iranian Internet users claimed that Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, Google, and all https websites had been blocked, and several outages and local blockages had been reported.
Washington Post Columnist, Thomas Erdbrink, told NPR in a recent interview that “most people think that government has basically turned off the Internet because of the large anti-government demonstration that has been announced by the Iranian opposition. This demonstration is due to take place here on Tuesday (Feb. 14). And many people suspect that the government has decided to switch off the Internet in order to prevent people from spreading the news to each other; from knowing which routes to walk when they will hit the center tomorrow in those demonstrations called for by the anti-government opposition.”
Erdbrink went on to say that ordinary Iranians, Iranian bloggers and other tech-savvy people have figured out ways to use VPNs (virtual private networks), but that more recently the government has been successful in slowing the speed of VPNs, which essentially prevents the sites from opening.
It’s unclear as to whether or not Iran will indeed launch its Halal Internet by May, but many are wondering if the initiative will lay the groundwork for other countries like Pakistan and North Korea to follow suit. According to Fast Company, “Pakistan has (already) taken the first steps toward building a massive national Internet censorship system that would block access to ‘millions of undesirable web sites.'”
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