Iran’s cyber police have cracked down illegal and “immoral” Internet sites by blocking access to Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo, as well as social media sites like Facebook (News - Alert) and Balatarin.com – which evaluates unofficial news and rumors in Farsi – leaving millions of people virtually unplugged.
Iranian bloggers and many of the country’s 35 million Internet users have been using illegal VPNs to surf and enter forbidden sites, but as of late, that software has stopped working. In addition, over the past year, an increasing number of online activists and bloggers have been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms.
“There has been a change,” said Maysam, who spoke on the condition his last name not to be used out of fear of being summoned by Iran’s cyber police. “It seems that the authorities are increasingly getting the upper hand online.”
Many fear this action is the prelude to Iran launching its National Internet, also called “Clean Internet,” which would give the Iranian government more control over Web content and filtering out U.S. and other foreign sites that that they deem “immoral” or a threat to national security.
Ordinary Iranians would be limited to “halal,” or a more censored network.
Iranian officials have accused U.S.-based technology companies – firms like Twitter (News - Alert), Google and Microsoft (News - Alert) – of working with U.S. authorities to spy on Iranian online trends, search behavior, e-mail and social networks.
“They are stealing people’s information and following their own ... goals,” said Reza Taghipour, the communication and information technology minister, when speaking about foreign governments and online companies in January. “We need [the National Internet] to protect the privacy of families.”