Iranian Internet access disrupted, raising fears of censorship


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REPORTING FROM TEHRAN AND LOS ANGELES -- Internet access was disrupted in Iran on Monday, raising fears that the state might be stepping up censorship ahead of national elections next week.

Foreign websites beginning with “https” were not available, an Iranian technology expert said. The disruptions followed a week of spotty email and interrupted access to social networking sites. This time, special software that many Iranians use to dodge government filters was not working.


Iran has long censored the Internet, blocking some URLs and filtering the Web with keywords, according to the media freedom group Reporters Without Borders. YouTube and websites where people share photos are off limits. Police have arrested Web developers.

This year, the government has added more pressure for Iranians who go online. New government rules require Iranians to show their photo IDs and give full names when they visit cyber cafes. The cafes, in turn, must track the websites their customers visit. Internet connections have grown spottier, users complain.

“In the past few months, the filtering of some news websites not only has affected the efficiency of Internet in Iran, but has blocked easy access to information,” reformist analyst Mashallah Shamsolvaezin said Sunday in an interview with Aftabnews, an Iranian news outlet.

The Tor network, which helps people connect anonymously to the Internet, reported that its Iranian traffic plunged two weeks ago when problems with “https” websites were reported earlier, dropping from 50,000 users to nearly zero. The numbers later rebounded as Iranians found ways to work around it.

Internet usage has boomed in Iran over the last decade, growing from less than 1% to 13% of Iranians, according to the most recent estimates from the United Nations agency for information technology.

Government officials say they plan to create a national system that would be “pure,” which activists fear will curtail Iranians from using the global Web.



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-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles