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Iran Aims To 'Customize' Internet Filtering

Iran -- People use internet at a cybercafe in the center of Tehran. File photo

Iran's telecommunications minister says that his ministry wants to customize Internet filtering based on user’s occupation, age, and other factors.

The attorney general's office has conditionally agreed with this plan, Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi announced on December 4.

Without providing any details, he said his ministry had reviewed suggestions made by the attorney general and prepared “appropriate technical responses.” He expressed hope that the office would give its final approval for the implementation of the plan.

It seems that “custom filtering” is an effort by President Hassan Rouhani’s government to ease Internet censorship.

Internet access is heavily restricted in Iran, since its use became widespread more than fifteen years ago. In addition to pornographic and “undesirable” news and political websites, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are also blocked for Iranian users.

Social media were widely used in the anti-government protests of 2009 against the re-election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Iran is one of the highest users of internet in the world. In 2015, 70% of Iranians regularly used the internet, ranking 16 globally.

For a state that engages in elaborate efforts, including vast bureaucracies, arrests and detentions in order to control information, this poses a constant danger. The advent of smart phones has made the situation even more problematic for the state.

By law, the working group for the determination of criminal content, which consists of several ministers and presided over by the attorney general, is responsible for Internet filtering. However, many websites and applications are blocked at the behest of the attorney general's office, which is under the control of the conservative judiciary.

The attorney general's office ordered the filtering of the voice-messaging feature from the popular messaging app Telegram in April due to purported “risks for national security.” Telegram has more than 40 million users in Iran.

In 2014, Iran expanded the so-called smart filtering of the Internet in order to censor undesirable content on websites without blocking them completely. Its application on Instagram has had 83 percent success, according to a former minister of telecommunications.

Despite the regime’s efforts to censor the Internet, Iranian users routinely get around the restrictions by using anti-filtering programs or virtual private networks.