Although not as sophisticated or powerful as China’s Great Firewall, the Iranian government imposes some of the strictest censorship in the world on its internet users. As present a large number of websites are blocked by a wide-scale blanket ban – so for example (at least in theory) websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube simply cannot be accessed.
In practice, many Iranians evade this rather clumsy censorship through the use of VPN, something which may have prompted President Hassan Rouhani to loosen social network restrictions and take a more nuanced approach.
Under the new policy, which will come fully into force by June 2015, social media websites will become accessible, but some of their content will be filtered instead. Communications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi explained to a news conference,
‘Implementing the smart filtering plan, we are trying to block the criminal and unethical contents of the internet sites, while the public will be able to use the general contents of those sites.’
In addition to ‘criminal and unethical contents,’ the Tehran government wishes to block politically damaging material, as well images considered to be indecent (a concept which is much more broadly interpreted in Iran, an Islamic country, than it is in the West).
In addition to these ‘smart filters’, the new policy aims to prevent evasion of state censorship by blocking VPN services. How effective this will be remain to be seen, but we are fairly confident that the technologies used to undermine similar such blocks in China will prove at least as effective in Iran.