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Mixed Messages From Iran On Internet Access

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, July 8 2013

Hassan Rouhani Mojtaba Salimi/Wikipedia

A week after Iran's minister for communications and information technology told the media the country slowed down the Internet before the presidential election on June 14, the president-elect Hassan Rouhani announced he would reduce online censorship. The mixed messages come along with news or at least rumor of a speedy – and easily restricted – “national Internet.”

"In the age of digital revolution, one cannot live or govern in a quarantine," said President-elect Hassan Rouhani.

This is, of course, because an online quarantine is ineffective, not because it is unethical:

". . .filtering is incapable of producing any [useful] results," Rouhani said. "Supporters of Internet filtering should explain whether they've successfully restricted access to information? Which important piece of news has filtering been able to black out in recent years?"

It is also an ineffective morality enforcer: "Filtering has not even stopped people from accessing unethical [pornographic] websites. Widespread online filtering will only increase distrust between people and the state."

In June Iranians reported severe restrictions on services like Gmail and Skype, and crippling-slow speeds on any site preceded by “https.”

"The reduction of the Internet speed, which some called 'disturbances', was the result of security measures taken to preserve calm in the country during the election period,” Mohammad Hassan Nami, Iran's ICT minister, told the Tasnim news agency.

Collin Anderson, an independent researcher and authority on Iran's Internet (he's credited with unearthing plans for Iran's national Internet, nicknamed Halal Internet), told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the Internet speed returned to normal less than a week after the election.

"The throttling is not as aggressive as it used to be. . .I think that things are still kind of throttled but in a normal way, so Iran's Internet is back to its normal, everyday level of craftiness,” added Anderson.

In addition to their history of restricting Internet access, Iran also ranks poorly on the Press Freedom Index: 174 of 179, which is worse than China. In advance of the elections, foreign reporters were advised by Reporters Without Borders on how to report “censored elections.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.