Iranians can now take selfies, but still do not have Internet freedom
Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has been a long time advocate for lessening the country's tight grip on Internet access. Earlier this month, despite criticisms from religious clerics, the government granted 3G and 4G licenses to the nation's two largest mobile operators. For the first time, Iranians are now able to use their phones to surf the web. As mobile operators rush to provide high-speed connections to millions of subscribers, Iran's people are increasingly uploading pictures from their phones and sharing them with their friends, reported The New York Times.
In the past, while the government has provided speeds of up to 10 megabits, for home Internet access – compared to 20 and 30 megabits in the western world – mobile Internet access has always been too slow to use, until now. President Rouhani believes that it is time for Iran to accept new technology.
"Once, there was a time that someone would hide his radio at home, if he had one, to use it just for listening to the news. We have passed that era," Rouhani said, according to ISNA news agency.
Internet censorship still in place
Despite the recent changes, Internet access in Iran is still heavily controlled and policed. Many sites are not accessible in the country causing citizens to break the law and use other means to gain access to banned sites such as YouTube and Twitter. Mohammad Tahi Hassanzadaeh, head of research at the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, claimed that 69.3 percent of Internet users utilize proxy servers or illegal software to circumvent censorship controls, according to ISNA news agency.
President Rouhani, in regards to the filtering and banning of sites, stated in a press conference after the mobile licenses were granted, the country would remain committed to maintaining a national intranet, reported The New York Times.
Religious clerics in Iran are not pleased with recent events. Increasing Internet freedom has always faced opposition from the military, law makers and clerics. There remains a strong desire to stop the Internet from being used to organize protests or upload pictures and video that may weaken the state. Clerics in particular have an inclination to believe that they can encourage virtue in the people by controlling what they see on the Internet. To clerics, mobile Internet will increase the sharing of pictures and videos which promote vice.
[Mobile internet is] "immoral and unlawful, " said prominent Iranian cleric Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, according to BBC News.
The purification of technology
Despite their protestations, Shiite clerics do admit that the Internet is good for scientific development. They simply believe that it is bad for everything else. President Rouhani continues to face opposition, namely from religious councils and the judiciary, on the issue of Internet freedom, backing down repeatedly. It seems that opposition wants the government to move ahead with its nuclear program and gain Western approval, improve the national economy, but stifle any types of social change, reported The New York Times.
It is hard to believe that Iran is still a country where typing "women" into Google will redirect the user to a site that explains – as per regulations related to computer crime, access is not permitted.
"We feel the new technology must be purified before it is given to the people," Shirazi added in his statement earlier this month.
Many Iranians, while pleased with recent developments, still wish for the government to lessen their control on Internet use, which to them seems archaic and trite.
"Once they declared the VCR illegal, and look how ridiculous that sounds now. That shows how we will feel about this period in the future," commented an Iranian woman who chose to remain anonymous, reported the news source.