Despite the Iranian government’s stated intention to move towards the selective blocking of Internet content (“smart filtering”), a top government official proclaimed that the social networking giant Facebook would continue to be completely blocked in Iran.
Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, a high-level advisor to Iran’s Prosecutor General and Secretariat of the State’s Working Group to Determine Criminal Content, told the Tabnak website on May 5 that “Facebook will definitely not be included in this type of [smart] filtering, and will remain completely blocked.
The continuation of the Facebook ban reflects the profound fear with which Iranian officials view social media networks, which have proved enormously popular in Iran, particularly among the younger generation.
In an interview with the Asr Iran news website in 2011, Mehdi Jafari, the Chief of the Technology and Information and Cultural Organization for Students of the Basij (the Revolutionary Guard’s volunteer militia forces) said, “We have 17 million Iranian users on Facebook.” The number of Facebook users in Iran since that time has risen dramatically.
Apart from Facebook, Iranian officials continued to move forward with their plans for “smart filtering,” the blocking of online content based on the specific subject matter, as opposed to the blanket blocking of an entire website.
On May 4, Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi told ISNA that a new phase of the smart filtering plan would “become operational in two months,” adding that “It’s not clear which networks will be covered by the plan.”
The first phase, kicked off in October 2014 on President Rouhani’s orders, was implemented on Instagram, and “cleansed” 83% of the mobile phone social network’s contents, according to Vaezi.
Iranian officials have often proclaimed their smart filtering capabilities and intentions, but Internet specialists remain skeptical given the technological difficulties involved in content–based filtering due to the sheer volume of content that moves across the Internet.
Nevertheless, Iranian officials continue to aspire to making inaccessible any content they deem “inappropriate and unauthorized.”
In a December 2014 interview with Mehr News Agency, Mahmoud Kosravi, Iran’s Deputy Minister for Telecommunications and Information Technology described the smart filtering project’s goal as “targeted filtering, identifying the users during access, utilizing software localized by knowledge-based companies, and determination of access levels for users based on their conditions.”
User identification is the most threatening aspect for online professionals and activists, as it can expose personal information, contacts, and online activities to state intelligence and security organizations. The government has been working on a variety of means to monitor content and identify users without the user’s knowledge, such as through government-issued SSL security certificates that allow the state to surreptitiously access online content.
In its November 2014 report, Internet in Chains: The Front Line of State Repression in Iran, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, detailed the technological initiatives underway in Iran that restrict Iranians’ access to the Internet and strengthen the state’s ability to covertly monitor online use inside the country.