The State Department has launched a new cartoon it created highlighting Iran’s online system of censorship.
The cartoon follows Barack Obama’s message to Iranians on the occasion of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, on March 20. He condemned Iran for the creation of an “electronic curtain” which stops the free flow of information and ideas into the country.
Iran is set to start implementing what’s been dubbed a ‘Halal Internet’ for the country next month.
The so-called ‘National Internet’ would go much further than China and disconnect Iran from the rest of the world. Iran is denying the reports as “western propaganda.”
Iranian newspaper Roozegar reported last year that the existing Internet access has dramatically slowed, because, it believed, the new ‘National Internet ‘ was being tested.
Speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, an Iranian IT expert with close knowledge of the ‘National Internet’ project said that the prime reason for its creation is not actually the opposition to the government but security in the wake of the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear project.
That computer virus, believed to have been a joint US/Israeli project, devastated the uranium enrichment project, as Iran eventually admitted.
The U.S. is funding ‘shadow’ communications projects globally, including what’s called “Internet in a suitcase” which would smuggle technology into countries like Iran. Between 2008 and 2011, Congress authorized $76m spending on such projects.
Another project is Commotion Wireless, which will enable anyone with a smartphone to connect with other smartphones, forming a “mesh network” – an impromptu internet – to communicate by stealth, regardless of efforts to monitor or shut down traffic.
In January, Commotion had a trial run at the Occupy DC encampment – meaning the State Department was effectively facilitating the protest.
Iranians, like Chinese Internet users, have found ways of going around existing web barriers (Facebook is one of five million blocked websites but it still has 17 million Iranian members) but censorship and monitoring still causes practical problems. This month it was discovered that it was blocking the official website for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Last year, exiled Iranian LGBT groups warned that the ‘Halal Internet’ would be a “disaster” because internet communications are so crucial.
“Right now, when a young gay man in a remote village fears for his life, or a TS [transsexual] student is hurt by university staff, or someone is missing, or an activist wants the translation of a piece of news, we reach out and help, and believe me it goes way beyond what I can or I am allowed to put to word,” says Saghi Ghahraman of the Iranian Queer Organization, an exile organization which supports people inside Iran and particularly those who need to flee.
“Being connected to the outside, having access to internet and phone lines, for the ordinary people as well as the activist is what that saves their lives.”
Picture by Overig