Iranians have lost the right to surf the Web anonymously at Internet cafes as the government reportedly moves closer to its ultimate goal of replacing the global network with a censored national intranet.
The Iranian Cyber Police published new rules on Wednesday designed to allow officials to know exactly who is visiting what Web sites. Before they can log on, Iranians are required to provide their name, father's name, address, telephone number and national ID, according to an Iranian media report cited by Radio Free Europe. Cafe owners will be required to install security cameras and to keep all data on Web surfers, including browsing history, for six months.
The rules, which come as the country prepares for parliamentary elections in March, are a deterrent to activists who might want to use the Internet cafes to organize protests. Calls to boycott elections distributed via social networks or e-mail will be treated as national security crimes, the Iranian judiciary announced last week, according to a report today in the Wall Street Journal. Government officials claim they need to control access to the Internet to counter what they say is a "soft" cultural war being waged by Western countries to influence the morals of Iranians.
Monitoring Web surfers is an interim measure until the government is done building out its own domestic intranet that is "halal," or pure. Initially, the Iran intranet will run in tandem with the Internet before the global Web is shut off to the 23 million Internet users in Iran, according to reports. Payam Karbasi, spokesman for Iran professional union Corporate Computer Systems, told Iranian media that the domestic network, which was announced last March, would be launched in coming weeks, the WSJ reported.
Iranians have reported that during the intranet tests this week, Internet connections have slowed down and Web sites have been blocked. Access to VPNs (virtual private networks) Iranians use to access sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have also been affected, reports said.
Widespread protests over purported fraud in the 2009 election, which brought President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back to office, prompted the Iranian government to cut off access to opposition Web sites and mobile telephone networks. But protesters flocked to Twitter and Facebook to skirt the communications crackdown, to spread videos and news and to organize demonstrations. Tor and other tools were then used to get around government shutdowns of those sites.
Some of the extreme censorship measures adopted by Iran have also been used in Libya and in China, which deploys the "Great Firewall" to keep objectionable content out of the country. China also requires identification to use Internet cafes in Beijing, and has a history of shutting down blogs as well as allegedly meddling with Gmail and targeting activists with cyber attacks.