Report: Iran Seeks Support to Censor Internet, Disconnect From Global Network

Iranian Information Minister says intention is not to disconnect from the World Wide Web, but to create two networks.

Iran's Information Ministry has recently released a "Request for Information", geared at fetching outside aid for the creation of a more regulated and restricted web. According to a report in the ArsTechnica website, a Persian-language document targeted firms, groups, and universities with knowledge in the area of "cleansing or purifying" the Internet.

Earlier this month, Iran's Information Ministry announced that the Islamic Republic planned to sever itself from the global Internet network, thus creating a "clean internet" as soon as the coming August.

"Currently the matter of Internet cleanup is being done via filtering at the Internet gateways of our country, which has had its own set of problems," the document stated, according to ArsTechnica.

A web surfer in an Iranian Internet café.

Furthermore, ArsTechnica said "the document appears to be the latest step in what Iranian government officials have previously called the "halal Internet." The government has not yet explained precisely what they mean, nor what its technical capabilities are, nor when it would launch."

The Iranian Information Minister denied reports on Thursday that it was seeking to disconnect from the World Wide Web in the near future, adding that the intention is to create two separate networks – one connected to the international web, and another solely internal web.

Speaking to the website, security expert Collin Anderson, who located the document, said he believed its release "demonstrates that the Iranian government does not intend on cutting off access to the external Internet [any] time soon," indicating that this "might suggest that the government has not been able to acquire the services of foreign companies for planning and optimizing an infrastructure."

Iran and other totalitarian regimes have in the past used the services of foreign firms to block, censure and spy on their users. In the past, a lawsuit was filed against Nokia Siemens, alleging that the technology the firm sold to Iran aided in the regime's construction of a censorship and surveillance network.

According to the suit, filed in 2010, the technology allowed the tracing of the phone of Isa Saharkhiz, a journalist and dissident who was arrested by the regime.

In 2011 there were reports that Iran purchased equipment from the Israeli company Allot Communications that enhanced Internet surfing and provided the ability to distinguish between types of traffic in a way that could potentially limit certain types of traffic, like file sharing or various communication protocols. According to the Bloomberg report, the Israeli company transferred the equipment via a Danish company called Rantek. The company's managers denied claims this was done knowingly, but Bloomberg claimed, sourcing former employees, that it was in fact done in full knowledge.

Media Ghetto

According to the Information Minister, the initiative is a digital project of his office for the Persian new year, which started on March 20. The process will be conducted over various stages. In the beginning, international websites will be blocked, and at the end all local Internet service providers will be combined into a closed server in August this year. At this stage, Iran is planning to disconnect the domestic Internet from the international Internet, and prevent access to foreign sites. Reports on the plan to close the Iranian Internet began showing up in the media in May 2011.

According to the minister, "Various government organizations are already connecting to the national Internet from their offices, and a number of schools use that network." He added that the Iranian Internet network has not yet been presented to the broader audience of Internet users in the state. He estimates that within two to three years the network will consolidated in its final form.

The establishment of this sort of Internet will prevent the creation, reception and transfer of information inside and outside Iran. Similarly, it will prevent direct communication between Internet users in Iran and abroad, including Israel.

The Iranian initiative is another link in the long chain of attempts by the regime to regain control over means of communication and to subjugate new media to the central regime, in the same way that old media was controlled. Thus, Iran will in effect form a "media ghetto," resembling that which existed before the Internet emerged. It also intends to export this online revolution to other countries around the world.

Dr. Tal Pavel has a doctorate in Middle East and specializes in Internet and techonology in the Middle East and the Islamic world. He lectures at the School of Communications at the Netanya Academic College.