Iran’s New Search Engine Denies Access to Political or Human Rights Content on Internet
According to research conducted by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the new engine’s display of search results does not follow the norms of other engines used worldwide such as Google or Yahoo, which display and prioritize results according to the number of views, technical aspects of the website design, or ads placed with those companies, nor does it deliver the same content.
Rather, the results are displayed based on the government’s political sensitivities and conform to the state’s rigid censorship of all media in Iran—any objectionable content that departs from the official line is not delivered.
For example, when searching in the video section of Parsijoo for the name of Iran’s Green Movement leader, “Mir Hossein Mousavi,” the user will only be shown a list of state videos containing propaganda against Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Similarly, searching for the name of student activist “Bahareh Hedayat,” or “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” will display no results. In fact “The National Search Engine,” as Parsijoo is called by Iranian officials, will only make content available to users that matches the state’s version of events, individuals, and issues.
The development of this search engine is the latest step in the government’s efforts to develop a National Internet in Iran (a domestic Intranet, separate from the global Internet), in which the state controls all access to online content through national operating systems, browsers, applications, online services, and now, search engines.
These steps, alongside the authorities’ online filtering activities and aggressive persecution of Internet professionals and activists, continue to confirm that the state sees the Internet as the principal battleground it its struggle to control the citizenry’s access to information.
In a Mehr News Agency interview to mark Parsijoo’s unveiling on May 5, Alireza Yari, Secretariat of The Local Search Engine Strategic Council within the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology, boasted about the capabilities of Parsijoo’s new version as compared to its predecessors.
ILNA’s May 5 report of the Telecommunication Ministry’s Budget and Planning Office indicated that approximately $27 million has been allocated for “the research on domestic telecommunications and information technology, technology upgrades, and developing national products,” and $40 million has been allocated for implementation of state responsibilities regarding information technology.”
Calling the Internet “a double-edged sword,” President Rouhani said at a Teacher’s Day celebration on May 4, 2015, “Of course, sometimes restrictions are necessary, too. One of the important responsibilities of the Education Ministry is appropriate usage of these tools by the youth.”
These remarks seem to be a noticeable retreat from previous remarks by Rouhani in which he robustly defended Internet freedom. For example, when asked about Internet access in an interview with NBC on September 19, 2013 during his campaign for the presidency, Rouhani said: “The government’s view is that the people should have access to all the information in the world.” And on September 1, 2014, soon after assuming the presidency, Rouhani asserted, “We cannot shut the gates of the world to our young generation…. Once, there was a time that someone would hide his radio at home, if he had one, to use it just for listening to the news. We have passed that era.”