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Iranian Starts Blocking Internet Filtering Circumvention Tools

Radio Farda offers Psiphon, an effective circumvention tool developed in Canada, to its audience in Iran.
Radio Farda offers Psiphon, an effective circumvention tool developed in Canada, to its audience in Iran.

Iran’s Information and Communication Technology Minister announced that based on an order issued by the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, his ministry has started blocking anti-filtering programs or internet filtering circumvention tools, as they are known.

The internet is heavily censored in Iran, and users depend on using circumvention tools for accessing many applications and websites, such as social media sites or apps. Some of these tools have received funding from the U.S. government.

On Tuesday, Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi described the development of anti-filtering programs as one of the “plans” of the United States government in order to “overthrow” the Iranian regime.

“Expanding circumvention tools was one the plans of the U.S. State Department in 2010 in order to overthrow the Islamic Republic and therefore the Apple phones sold in the Iranian market did not function without such tools,” Iran’s communication minister claimed without providing further details.

Infographic -- map of world Internet freedom
Infographic -- map of world Internet freedom

Azari-Jahromi said one of the reasons why his government did not want to filter the popular messaging app Telegram was the fact that more people would start using anti-filtering tools and such tools had “destructive effects on the security”.

He claimed that based on reports by “credible institutions” the circumvention tools were “ransomware” that were collecting user’s data and their deployment would have “many consequences” for the users.

There have never been any reports of established circumvention tools used as ransomware in Iran.

Telegram, the most popular messaging app in Iran, was filtered on April 30 per an order of Iran’s judiciary. However, President Hassan Rouhani and Deputy Speaker of the Iranian Parliament Ali Motahari indicated later that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was behind the move.

Despite the ban many Iranians continue using Telegram, resorting to circumvention techniques, including virtual private networks, VPNs, and anti-filtering software; a recent survey conducted by Radio Farda shows.

A member of the Iranian parliament revealed last week that only one million Iranian users of Telegram have left the app after the ban. More than half of the 80 million population were using Telegram for various reasons, including accessing uncensored news. Exactly for the same reason, the conservatives were pressuring the government for a long time to filter Telegram.

Apparently, the increase in using the anti-filtering tools in recent days has caused the government to start blocking them.

The announcement has been followed by a wave of criticism by Iranians in social media. “Thank God! The job of our minister of communication is to block communication,” wrote an Iranian user in a sarcastic Tweet.