The Iranian government is broadening its efforts to censor and control access to the Internet as the country approaches its June elections. Wired reports that last week the head of Iran’s Information and Communications Technology Committee, Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard, announced to the public that the regime would be cracking down on Virtual Private Network (VPN) ports. VPNs provide a variety of security features, including data encryption and tunneling abilities. The former allow users to circumvent regime monitoring, while the latter make it easier to bypass censorship.
The regime may be attempting to prevent a repeat of the Green Revolution protests that swept through the country in the aftermath of Iran’s contested 2009 elections. The moves come at a time when Iranian officials are limiting media access to avoid exactly that scenario.
Alternatively, the timing could be a coincidence. Iran has been steadily moving toward creating a “halal Internet” on which it can control the content its citizens encounter. The campaign has required eroding the access that Iranian citizens have to secure and encrypted channels. Last year the regime blocked secure Google searches:
On Sunday, Iranian officials announced the country would be blocking access to Google and Gmail in protest of the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims, whose lengthy trailer was posted to YouTube earlier this month. A government deputy minister made the announcement on Sunday, and it came as state television revealed Google Inc’s search engine and its e-mail service would be blocked “within a few hours.”
According to Wired, the new order goes even further in that direction, banning a variety of secure channels:
Project Ainita, a non-profit championing internet freedom in places like Iran, flagged up the issue at the end of February when access to encrypted international sites using a SSL proxy appeared to be impossible. “Email, proxies and all the secure channels that start with ‘https’ are not available,” a Tehran-based technology expert told Reuters. About a week and a half after Ainita recommended the public use VPNs to circumnavigate the growing controls, which had already affected millions, it became clear most services were disrupted. This, said Ainita, shows “more signs of the Iranian government trying to block the few remaining ways to circumvent the surveillance and censorship system online…”
The new restrictions make it impossible, for instance, to access political sites like Whitehouse.gov and social networking sites like Facebook.
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