Throttling Internet Access
Written by ASL19 for the Iran Media Program.
According to Iranian Internet users, access to anti-filters and VPNs has been down since May 4th. Some are attributing this shut down to the National Information Network (NIN) project, while others point to the upcoming presidential elections. Iranian Internet users told Radio Farda that anti-filtering tools are connecting and disconnecting frequently, while access to VPNs is completely blocked. Psiphon and other tools like Kerio and Open VPN either don’t work or disconnect immediately after connection.
Users are also experiencing decreasing Internet speeds to the extent that Gmail, which was inadvertently blocked in 2012, does not work. Alef has reported that the slowing speeds are basically an attempt to shut down the Internet.
Iran’s Telecommunications Director, Seyed Hashemi, has asked the public to voice their concerns with the Communications Infrastructure Company, which provides bandwidth throughout Iran. The Communications Infrastructure Company however, explains that the disconnection occurred due to a disruption in the internal cables routed through the Suez Canal.
The Supreme Council of Cyberspace (SCC) has assured Iranians that recent events are not a signal towards establishing the NIN, but are attempts to improve the existing Internet. The SCC was created in March 2012, upon the Supreme Leader’s request, to centralize the governance of the Internet and to oversee the hardware, software, and other content.
Government officials have denied the connection between these new developments and the implementation of the national intranet. Mohammad Hossein Nami, the Minister of Information and Communications Technology, has explained that a National Internet Network is meant to protect national data against cyberattacks, without an interrupting the existing Internet.
It seems as though the government is continuing to suppress or limit Internet access. This past March, Iran’s Information and Communication Technology Committee (ICT) closed VPN ports across the country, restricting the use of circumvention tools such as Freegate, Ultrasurf, and Tor.
This past year the government also passed legislation to regulate use of social network websites. The commander of Iran’s Armed Forces, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, announced in early 2012 efforts by the government to develop new software to control the use of social networks, in order to avoid completely filtering those sites. This was followed by an order by the SCC in February, directed at website administrators, identifying the illegality of referencing or promoting content found on websites such as Facebook, and Twitter.
Accessing software downloads from online stores has also become difficult for Iranians. Many American and European software companies are withholding access to services and products due to sanctions. Until recently, Iranians relied on anti-filters to attain these online services.
The aggressive policies against Internet filters following the 2009 elections have returned as the June elections approach. Internet policy in Iran has increasingly become a national security issue over the years, and is now subject to intense oversight to prevent civil disobedience throughout the election period.