Tuesday, November 9, 2004

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The Iranian Internet crackdown

Alas, this section got cut from the conclusion of "Web of Influence":

Authoritarian states that seek to censor the Internet can easily censor blogs. Ironically, blogs are nearly as easy to block as to create. Governments can stymie their citizens’ access to a large fraction of the blogosphere by filtering out standardized blog URLs such as Blogger or Typepad. China has on occasion blocked all blogs based at blogger.com, blogs.com, and typepad.com... wherever Internet content is restricted, so are bloggers.

Unfortunately, as my co-author Henry Farrell points out, this point can now be seen in Iran. Nazila Fathi reported on it yesterday in the New York Times:

Iran has continued its crackdown on journalists, with two arrests in the past week, and has moved against pro-democracy Web sites, blocking hundreds of sites in recent months and making several arrests....

As part of its crackdown, the government has blocked hundreds of political sites and Web logs. Three major pro-democracy Web sites that support President Mohammad Khatami were blocked in August.

A university in Orumieh in northwestern Iran shut down its Internet lab, contending that students had repeatedly browsed on indecent Web sites.

The crackdown suggests that hard-liners are determined to curtail freedom in cyberspace. Many rights advocates had turned to the Internet after the judiciary shut down more than 100 pro-democracy newspapers and journals in recent years.

The number of Internet users in Iran has soared in the last four years, to 4.8 million from 250,000. As many as 100,000 Web logs operate, and some of them are political.

The move to block Web sites has the support of a senior cleric, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, who declared in September in the hard-line daily newspaper Kayhan that Web sites should be blocked if they "insult sacred concepts of Islam, the Prophet and Imams," or "publish harmful and deviated beliefs to promote atheism or promote sinister books."

Jeff Jarvis argues that, "They [the mullahs] will fail. This can't be stopped now."

For reasons laid out here (see p. 488-490) and here, I am more pessimistic.

UPDATE: For some more background on this crackdown, which has been going on for the past few months, check out this Hossein Derakhshan post from two months ago (link via Rebecca MacKinnon) as well as this Human Rights Watch press release from last month.

posted by Dan on 11.09.04 at 04:08 PM


There was a good article in TNR about this some time ago.

posted by: praktike on 11.09.04 at 04:08 PM [permalink]

Of course, government censorship of blogs & the internet as a whole presents the sort of technical challenge that keeps system programmers like me employed. If certain domains & IP addresses are blocked there are various ways around it, including but not limitted to:

* the google cache
* web proxy services with everchanging addresses.
* encryption of all transferred data, not just sensitive data. (This reduces snooping, and thus reduces the knowledge about what sites to block
* more elaborate proxy models, like rss to email conversion, with encryption. (This is a derivative of the darknet model.)
* localized internet access by satellite uplink.

Rather than bitch about this, why not ask Clay Shirky for some advice? He loves this kind of challenge in social programming. Heck, he can probably get a master's student to do some prototype implementations.

posted by: mac on 11.09.04 at 04:08 PM [permalink]


posted by: Today on 11.09.04 at 04:08 PM [permalink]

BadBlue is a tiny personal web server that can intelligently provide an anonymous proxy service for just these occasions.

See the help page for BadBlue's OfficeSurfer feature for more info.

Set one up and distribute to your friends. You can also search Google for pre-existing OfficeSurfer boxes, I think there are a bunch.

posted by: director on 11.09.04 at 04:08 PM [permalink]

hopefully folks can figure out a way to break through. it's so vital to battle the mullahs.

posted by: mls on 11.09.04 at 04:08 PM [permalink]

Shameless plug to your FP article.

posted by: Grad Student on 11.09.04 at 04:08 PM [permalink]

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