Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Beginning of Nationwide Filtering

Shahram Rafizadeh, Rooz Online:
The managing director of a government information technology company, Fanavari Etelaat, announced on Saturday that Iran’s nationwide filtering database would start its work in the following week. The official ISNA student news agency quoted Reza Rashidi Mehrabadi, the managing director of Fanavari, that they would be able to identify every Internet user in the country and log their access to Internet sites. While in the past the government possessed other software that performed the same functionality and kept track of Internet users, what is concerning to many is the official announcement of the policy.

The experimental phase of the project will begin work in the cities of Tehran, Shiraz, Mashhad, Tabriz, Ahvaz including two full capacity ICP centers and eight low capacity centers within two weeks and all sites that will be deemed illegal will be filtered throughout the country by the end of two months. Officials knowledgeable with the program have said that Internet sites will be divided into two groups: black and gray. Black sites will be completely filtered out, while gray ones will be left to the discretion of technicians of the centers.

Fighting Internet sites has been a key preoccupation of government officials for a few years now. The first time government officials publicly spoke of intelligent filtering of Internet sites was last November. Officials at the time boasted to have acquired the technology to even filter out specific words that Internet users used to access sites on the web and record the number of times users accessed specific sites. But officials spoke of and had sites that were immoral and against the principles of Islam, while it is common knowledge that their ultimate goal was the filtering of political sites. READ MORE

According to Rashidi Mehrabadi the technology that is available to the government today enables them to keep track of who has accessed the Internet and how many times during any period, by using the unique IP numbers, a required standard for connecting to and communicating with the Internet to access computer servers. He explained the instruments used for this project to have four components: control of the complete network, search engine, support of the user and the database which supported two thousand key words. The system can look a province or city and prevent computer users from accessing specific news events and their contents, based on the word differentiation (black, gray or white). All this is done automatically, after the region is identified and specific key words mapped to the search engine.

For a site to be taken off the list of black or gray sites, the owners had to change the contents of the sites. Mehrabadi claims that a special feature of the system is that it uses the user’s IP to track access. Furthermore, the system also identifies filter-breakers that may exist, between 2 and 5 days.

While some specialists have questioned the claims that officials have been making about the capability of the new user-identification and Internet filtering system, but the news has raised new concerns for Internet users. To them the issue is government interference in the private sphere of citizens and identifying them through network IPs (Internet Protocol). Mehdi Mohsenian Rad, a university professor, said about the project, “Before implementing the project, the Ministry of Telecommunications better explain what it is doing about the privacy of people’s communications and what it plans to do about this violation. How does it plan to protect people’s privacy?” And by referencing provisions in the constitution that ban such surveillance, he said that if we believe that opening people’s mail and eavesdropping on their telephone conversations is illegal, then identifying who accesses the Internet and which sites on it is a similar constitutional violation, unless the matter concerns the national security of the state.” He finally questioned the outcome of these new measures by reminding others that the government had tried in the past to ban videos, and then satellite receivers (dishes), to drop the issue after some time because it was not effective and doable.