Reports started circulating yesterday that Iran would be shutting down the Internet in favor of replacing it with an internally controlled and censored Intranet. The “new Internet” would be “cleansed” of anything that the Iranian government finds objectionable, and would resemble the level of open Internet access that Chinese nationals face.
Now, it appears that the outcry was for nought, as this was a “hoax.” Much like with the Mike Daisey/Foxconn ordeal, there is more to the story.
The full story is that the International Business Times published an article, claiming that the Internet in Iran would be fully blocked as of August of this year. The AFP then reported that the original IBT report was incorrect, with the statement from the Iranian government saying that this report is “the propaganda wing of the West.”
While it is true that the International Business Times grossly exaggerated the facts of the story, the level of freedom that Iranians experience is dwindling, which is a shame on two counts. First, that Iranians don’t really have free speech right now is a shame for obvious reasons. Second, that the IBT published a half-true story is a shame, because now people will think that Iran does have an open Internet.
It doesn’t. Currently, it is hard to measure how open an Internet connection is for one individual in Iran without actually being in Iran. For obvious reasons if you follow the news, I don’t have plans to go to Iran anytime soon. But thankfully, Google does provide a tool that displays the amount of traffic Google products receive from individual countries. This is generally a reliable tool for determining if access is open or not.
Looking at the data, Internet access follows two paths. On the one hand, there are services that are available the majority of the time, like Gmail, with only planned outages occurring. The graphs for these services looks like this:
Then there are services like Blogger and YouTube, both of which are almost entirely blocked, with intermittent availability that is almost certainly unplanned. That looks like this:
Looking at the juxtaposition between these two services, it is clear that Iran has a complicated relationship with the Internet. Making things worse for Iranians is that there are rumors that the Iranian government has been working closely with the Russian and Chinese governments to obtain surveillance equipment that can be used to closely monitor Internet traffic, and presumably be used to censor nationals.
Combine that with the public reports that Iran is working to create a secondary Internet that would be accessible inside of the country, and would be free from external influences, and the picture isn’t great for people wanting to access and use the Internet inside of Iran. Of course, while there obviously will be some minimal functionality to the Internet, it is not going to be anywhere near as extensive or secure as the World Wide Web.
Which is why this report from the International Business Times is distressing. Much like Mike Daisey’s false reports from Foxconn, the reports tell half-truths, which once discovered, mislead the public into believing that there is no problem. This is only compounded when other outlets (like PandoDaily) repeat the news. There is a problem, but it hasn’t fully developed yet.
Come next year though, when the Iranian Intranet is fully deployed and developed, this will be a very different story.