Iran announced the launch of a national Internet network, also known as “Halal Internet,” that claims to “improve cyber security,” prompting fears from many Iranians that online censorship will be increased within the country.
The nation blocked access to Google and its email service Gmail on Monday amid the first steps by the Islamic republic to establish a walled-off domestic Internet separate from the worldwide Internet.
The curbs were announced in a mobile phone text message quoting Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, an adviser to Iran's public prosecutor's office and the secretary of an official group tasked with detecting Internet content deemed illegal.
"Due to the repeated demands of the people, Google and Gmail will be filtered nationwide. They will remain filtered until further notice," the message read.
The Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) said the ban was related to the anti-Islam film posted on YouTube, but it hasn’t be confirmed by officials.
Iran systematically blocks Internet access to Facebook and other social networking websites as part of its strict censorship of online content. The popular video-sharing site YouTube, non-English Google sites and millions of foreign media websites such as the Guardian, BBC and CNN are also barred.
But many web users in Iran, half of whose 75 million strong population is connected, have found ways around the blocks, by using software known as a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The sale of VPN's is illegal in Iran and bandwidth of connections through the software is routinely strangled and occasionally even cut entirely.
Several residents in Tehran told AFP they were unable to get into their Gmail accounts unless they used VPN software.
Many Twitter users stormed the social networking site after the annoucment
Iranian authorities previously and temporarily cut access to Google and Gmail in February, ahead of March parliamentary elections.
Iran is working on rolling out its national intranet that it says will be easier to rid of un-Islamic content. Officials claim it will be faster and more secure, even though users' data will be more easily subject to monitoring.
Despite fears by Iranians that the new intranet would supplant the Internet, Mohammad Soleimani, a lawmaker heading a parliamentary communication committee, was quoted last week by the ISNA news agency as saying that "the establishment of the 'National Internet' will not cut access to the Internet."
He added: "Cutting access to the Internet is not possible at all, because it would amount to imposing sanctions on ourselves, which would not be logical. However, the filtering will remain in place."
Source: DCMF, AFP