Iranian Internet policy befuddles citizens
The Internet in Iran has a complex history, and recent action is only further highlighting the confusing and limiting policies that the government has implemented regarding its regulation.
In 2009, the citizens of Iran gathered in mass protest regarding what they felt was the unfair reelection of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Commonly referred to as the "Twitter Revolution," the Internet played a huge role in mobilizing and organizing many of the protestors, however, the fall out of the revolution led to many limitations on the Internet within the country.
According to Pando Daily, one of the biggest legacies left in the aftermath of the these protests was that the government began to link political dissent and social media together more than ever. Cyberspace can be an important way for individuals to express their opinions on a number of different issues, as well as gain valuable information about certain topics. Further, the Internet can bring numerous people together in contact with one another. However, recent action from the government has sought to institute further limitations on these capabilities.
Social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter have been largely blocked within the country, however, these policies have been in place for quite some time. Now, Mashable reported that an encrypted and secure chat tool has now been blocked within the country as well.
Cryptocat is a popular tool used by human rights activists and journalists around the world to communicate. Its founder, Nadim Kobeissi says it has been blocked since mid-November. The news source noted that the program has been used as an app and plugin on many browsers and is the most well known of a number of new tools that have been used to enable encrypted communication. It has received $186,000 in funding from Radio Free Asia's Open Technology Funding.
According to the news source, the site can still be accessed through Tor, which is commonly referred to as the deep web.
While Internet use is largely limited within the country, Pando Daily reported that this could be changing in the future. Recently elected President Hassan Rouhani has been quite active on Twitter and was elected for his platform that called to bring more online freedom to the country. At the moment, about 28 to 30 percent of the population is able to use tools like Virtual Private Networks to circumvent these restriction, according to the news source, which is good news for the country as a whole. However, there are still a number of limitations when it comes to the content that is available.
Pando Daily examined a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication which looked at the blocked sites of Wikipedia within the country to determine the nature of Iran's censorship. The most blocked websites by theme were those of civil and political matters, with 403 pages of the 963 that were examined being of this nature.
Of those sites, 152 dealt with the 2009 elections and subsequent protests indicating that those actions are still on the minds of these ruling powers. Other blocked articles included ones that had to do with sex and sexuality.
These kinds of actions put the country at a cross roads when it comes to online policy in the future. While there has been a lot of talk about making the Internet freer within the country, action has been slow to follow. Iran consistently ranks among the worst country's when it comes to these kinds of policies. While many citizens are able to navigate around these blocks, there are also many who are unable to do so.
Going forward it is important that the government act on the political rhetoric that has been touted since Rouhani's election so that citizens can connect and have freer access to information.