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Iran Tightens Control Over the Internet

June 24, 2005

NEW YORK — The Iranian government has tightened its control over the Internet, increasingly blocking content in its national language of Farsi and restricting what citizens can publish through Web journals, Western researchers say.

Iran shows a sophistication in filtering seen only in China and a few other countries, adapting its techniques as use of the Internet evolves, said John Palfrey, a Harvard University researcher who studied censorship in Iran for the OpenNet Initiative.

Before, the targets were mostly static English Web sites located in the United States and Europe.  But with the rise of Web journals, or blogs, Internet service providers are being ordered to prevent Iranians from reaching other Iranians directly, blocking them from posting messages containing certain Farsi keywords, Palfrey said.

The strategy makes sense because citizens “most likely are to be most interested in and energized by information in their own language,” said Ron Deibert, a University of Toronto professor who also served as a principal investigator for the study.

“If you’re looking to stem … the mobilization of political groups, it’s not what the BBC or Amnesty International is saying that you’re concerned with.  It’s what some Iranian dissident is saying in Farsi language to compatriots.

China, too, has placed special emphasis on its own language.  Users of Microsoft Corp.’s new blog service in China get a scolding message when they use such words as “democracy,” “freedom” and “human rights.”  Anti-censorship activists have found that if a user creates the blog in English, it bypasses such filtering, even if it is later switched to Chinese.

The University of Cambridge also joined in the Iranian study, which examined filtering by dialing in from overseas to Iranian service providers, as well as by using so-called proxy servers within Iran to mimic presence in the country.




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