Iran Ready to Turn on the Internet
Earlier this year I wrote about Iranian plans to switch off access to the World Wide Web for its citizens, building instead a domestic Internet service with only approved content on it.
At the time Iran played down the plans, saying it had no such intentions. Reuters are reporting however that the plans are in fact very near to fruition.
Iranian officials suggest the new locked down version of the Internet is being released to improve cyber security, but many, not least Iranian citizens, will fear it is instead an attempt to crack down on freedom of speech.
An official government statement revealed that both Google and Gmail will be amongst the first sites to be blocked.
"Google and Gmail will be filtered throughout the country until further notice," an official identified only by his last name, Khoramabadi, said, without giving further details.
Iran already has one of the most stringent filtering systems in place, blocking Iranians from accessing sites it deems offensive or criminal. It is believed that Google is being blocked in relation to the anti-Islamic film published on YouTube this month.
Most Iranians however believe the banning of sites such as Facebook and YouTube is more to do with blocking freedom of speech, and more importantly freedom of protest.
Iranians commonly overcome the government filter by using virtual private network (VPN) software that makes the computer appear as if it is based in another country.
The new system would however be isolated from the rest of the Web.
"In recent days, all governmental agencies and offices ... have been connected to the national information network," deputy communications and technology minister Ali Hakim-Javadi was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.
The next phase would see regular citizens connected to the network. The plan is to have the system fully operational by March 2013. At this stage it's unclear whether access to the global web would be completely cut off at that point.
Last year several UK politicians raised the idea of shutting off access to the Internet during periods of civil unrest, such as the riots in London last year. That was met with widespread condemnation, but that seems small fry compared to these ambitious, if very scary, plans by Iran