An Internet revolution is under way in Iran — one that could reshape the way people all over the world access information on the web, at least if Tehran has its way.
With its plans for a “clean Internet,” Iran is building an insulated network of websites approved by governmental and religious authorities, which will eventually be the only ones accessible to people surfing the web from within the country. And once the system works at home, Iran plans to export it to the rest of the world.
From a technical perspective, implementing such a system, especially in a country like Iran, where police have wide powers, would be simple: The government could simply seize control of all the cache servers in the country and ensure that all unwanted websites are kept out at that level. Thus, if a user tried to surf to a site that was not in the cache, they would receive a “site not found” page – or, in the case of the Iran system, a notice that the page they were seeking was not approved, based on the standards that Iranian Internet administrators have implemented.
The system would essentially be similar to a corporate intranet, where only approved users can access web pages, while sites outside the intranet can be banned by administrators.
Over the past several weeks, Iran has more or less closed off access to the outside world, Iranian bloggers outside the country said. The shutdown affected even sites that until now had been allowed through Iran’s filtering system, including Google and Youtube. The new draconian filtering policy could be a sign that Iran was ready to fully implement its plans for a “clean internet,” some observers said.
Last March, Reza Taghipour Anvari, Iran’s minister of Communications and Information Technology, laid out a six-point plan to implement the system in Iran and elsewhere. The Internet as we know it, he wrote, “promotes crime, disunity, unhealthy moral content, and atheism.” Under his plan, these online “scourges” will be eliminated, with a special unit of Iranian soldiers ensuring that such sites are taken offline. As far as foreign sites are concerned, a “white list” would be set up, allowing Iranians to access only approved sites and banning any sites not on that list.
The plan also discusses eliminating “improper” use of the Internet. While “improper use” is not clearly defined, Anvari said that the “sometimes the Internet is used immorally in business,” and that this type of misuse must be halted as well.
But the plan’s most ambitious aspect entails the spread of the “clean Internet” to the rest of the world — especially Muslim countries, but to “all of humanity” as well, Anvari wrote. The plan “emphasized that Iran is the first country where the Internet will have a clean implementation, and this is in the interest of Muslim countries. Many countries have welcomed the idea, especially Muslim countries like Malaysia and the Persian Gulf nations who have made clear their desire to execute this clean Internet at home,” Anvari wrote. Eventually, the system will be offered to “all of humanity,” which will be “happy to embrace it.”
Among the features of Iran’s Internet will be the implementation of its own search engine, called “Ya Haq,” which will be accessible from within Iran, and will be to search through and index only approved sites. The target date for the implementation of the search engine, set last June, is this month, and experts said that the disabling of access to Google over the past several weeks could be a signal that Iran is ready to replace the worldwide search engine with the home-grown Iranian version. With a closed Internet and a limited search engine, the average Iranian user would have no way of accessing information not approved by the government – giving Iran total control over the flow of information on the Internet.
According to Anvari, the government’s main concern would seem to be banning pornographic and other immodest sites, but most observers believe that the plan is more motivated by efforts to suppress dissent, by taking away social media tools like Twitter and Facebook that could be used to organize protests against the regime.
But there are other factors at work — specifically anti-Semitism. According to English-language Iranian propaganda sites, the Internet as it exists must be destroyed, not controlled — because it is under the total control of Jews and “Zionists.” According to one site, “the Jewish hand behind Internet controls Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, Yahoo!, MySpace, eBay, and much more. Many of the main instruments of Internet usage are in the hands of dedicated Zionist Jews.” As such, the Internet is the natural enemy of the Iranian people, and must be destroyed in order to prevent the Jews from “spreading their propaganda and infecting the world with it further.
“What would the Internet be like with Google, PayPal, Facebook, Digg.com, Buy.com?” the site asks, naming the “Jewish” giants of online computing. “It would be very, very different,” the site answers, and Iran intends for all of us to find out just how different it would be.