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6/24/05

Iran's Internet Censorship Among Strictest In the World, Documents OpenNet Initiative Report

Toronto, Ontario; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Cambridge, UK: The university based OpenNet Initiative (ONI) released “Internet Filtering in Iran,” a report that documents the degree and extent to which the Iranian government controls the information environment in which its citizens live, including websites, blogs, email, and online discussion forums.

Drawing from technical interrogation, extensive legal and political analysis, and interviews with Iranians, ONI’s analysis finds that Iran’s Internet filtering system is one of the world’s most substantial censorship regimes. Iran has adopted this extensive filtering regime at a time of extraordinary growth in Internet usage among its citizens, as well as a tremendous increase in the number of its citizens who write online in Farsi. ONI’s research shows that Iran is among several countries in the Middle East that focuses its censorship efforts on expression through local language, like Farsi. Iran is also one of a growing number of countries, particularly in the Middle East region, that rely upon commercial software developed by for-profit United States companies to carry out its filtering regime.

Report: http://www.opennetinitiative.net/iran/

Major Report Findings:

Iran uses the commercial filtering package SmartFilter – made by the US-based company, Secure Computing – as the primary technical engine of its filtering system. This commercial software product is configured as part of the Iranian filtering system to block both internationally-hosted sites in English and locally hosted sites in local languages.

Of the sites we tested, approximately 34% were blocked. The Iranian state has effectively blocked access of its citizens to many pornographic online sites, most anonymizer tools, a large number of sites with gay and lesbian content, some politically sensitive sites, women’s rights sites, and certain targeted Web logs (“blogs”), among other types of sites.

Testing showed that online content in the Farsi language is more likely to be blocked than is comparable content in the English language.

Statements from ONI’s Report Authors:

“Our report on Iranian filtering of the Internet shows that not only are freedom of speech and access to information under threat, but that there is a growing commercial market for the technologies that diminish them. By providing filtering systems to non-democratic regimes, the US company, Secure Computing, is complicit in Iranian breaches of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. This thriving Internet censorship market -- spread like a virus from China to Iran to an increasing number of countries worldwide -- calls into question not only the trumpeted slogans of high-tech firms that the Internet represents "freedom" and "connectivity," but simplistic divisions between "us" and "them" as well.”
Ronald Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab, University of Toronto.

“There is a growing market for censorship technology world wide and the demand is being filled by Western corporations. Increasingly, countries are deploying commercial filtering applications to filter pornography but add additional content that is blocked for political reasons. The secret lists of blocked sites compiled by these commercial entities are prone to over-blocking and mis-categorization resulting in content being blocked that was never intended to be blocked.”
Nart Villeneuve, Director of Technical Research, Citizen Lab, Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.

“This report is part of a continuing effort to map Internet filtering worldwide -- to understand where digital barriers are leaping up among states, how effective they are, and how routine Internet filtering will become. One now wonders whether new forms of dynamic content creation -- as on blogs, wikis, and distributed information sites -- will trump the filtering of static Web pages and sites that has indeed had some success at blocking people's access to information.”
Jonathan Zittrain, Co-Founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Assistant Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

“Iran has put in place one of the world’s most extensive and sophisticated Internet censorship regimes. Along with China, Iran has committed to adapting its filtering practices with changes in Internet technology, which suggests that the cat and mouse game between those who would speak freely and those who would stop them is bound to continue. Bloggers who write in Farsi in Iran have a much harder job today in trying to reach their audience than bloggers in most other parts of the world.”
John Palfrey, Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

ONI is a collaborative partnership between the University of Toronto, Harvard University, and the University of Cambridge. Authors of ONI’s report: Ronald Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab, University of Toronto; Rafal Rohozinski, Director of the Advanced Network Security Group,University of Cambridge; Jonathan Zittrain, Faculty Co-Director of the Berkman Center; John Palfrey, Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society; Nart Villeneuve, Director of Technical Research at the Citizen Lab; and Derek Bambauer, Berkman Center Fellow. The work of principal investigators, Jonathan L. Zittrain and John G. Palfrey, Jr. on this research report was made possible by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Research and Writing Grants Program of the Program on Global Security and Sustainability. For more information about the OpenNet Initiative, please visit ONI’s website: http://www.opennetinitiative.net

Contact: Amanda Michel, Harvard Law School
(617) 495-5236
amichel@cyber.law.harvard.edu

 

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