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September 25, 2012 (TSR) – Iran blocked access to Google’s and Gmail service on Monday in response to Google’s refusal to block access to an American anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims.
The curbs were announced in a mobile phone text message quoting Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, an adviser to Iran’s public prosecutor’s office and the secretary of an official group tasked with detecting illegal Internet content.
“Due to the repeated demands of the people, Google and Gmail will be filtered nationwide. They will remain filtered until further notice,” the message read.
Access to Google’s search page (www.google.com) was also restricted to its unsecured version, web users in Iran found. Attempts to access it using a secure protocol (https://www.google.com) were also blocked.
In parallel to the decision, Iran also announced its intention to establish a walled-off national intranet separate from the worldwide Internet, a “halal Internet” that will be clean of un-Islamic content. Officials stress that it will be faster and more secure.
This move will now require Iranian web traffic to pass through a National Gateway that filters banned content. In the past, Iranian citizens circumnavigated these blackouts by using virtual private networks (VPN) to make it look like their computers are located in a different country. But Iran’s new domestic internet will make penetrating foreign websites impossible.
Mohammad Soleimani, a lawmaker heading a parliamentary communication committee, was quoted this week by the ISNA news agency as saying that “the establishment of the ‘National Internet’ will not cut access to the Internet.”
He added: “Cutting access to the Internet is not possible at all, because it would amount to imposing sanctions on ourselves, which would not be logical. However, the filtering will remain in place.”
Reporters Without Borders noted that in early September, Iranian mobile phone users received a text message inviting them to use the new government-run e-mail service, Iran.ir. Citizens are required to give their name, address, phone number, and ID card number to authorities, which takes 24 hours to be approved. That site appears to be a government-run alternative to Google, which only searches a limited number of Persian-language sites.
The Islamic Republic has been building a domestic Internet since March 2011 after social media ignited protests during its 2009 election.
In May, the country also threatened legal action against Google after it removed the name “Persian Gulf” from Google Maps.
Mashable reports that this isn’t the first time Iran has blocked Google for its estimated 23 million users:
The government frequently cuts off access to YouTube, Google Reader, Facebook and other websites it deems to be criminal or offensive. When mainstream websites are up and running, the government monitors web activity — collecting passwords, login details and other information from individuals.
Iran’s nuclear program was also attacked in 2010 by a Stuxnet computer worm which US and Israel created. This summer, Iran’s nuclear energy group, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, reportedly said it was hit by malware that shut down some of the facility’s automated processes.