Iranian authorities have taken another measure to curb internet freedoms by blocking the use of most “virtual private networks”, a tool most of its population used to get around an extensive government Internet filter, Iranian media quoted an official as saying on Sunday.
A widespread government Internet filter prevents stops Iranians from accessing sites on official grounds they are offensive or criminal.
Article 24 of the constitution gives the state a free hand in restricting freedom of expression, declaring, “Publications and the press have freedom of expression except when there is infringement of the basic tenets of Islam or public rights.”
However, the “basic tenets of Islam” and “public rights” are not defined in the constitution, meaning the authorities can use their own interpretation and crack down on free expression at will.
Many Iranians evade the filter through use of VPN software, which provides encrypted links directly to private networks based abroad, and can allow a computer to behave as if it is based in another country.
But authorities have now blocked “illegal” VPN access, an Iranian legislator told the Mehr news agency on Sunday. Iranian web users confirmed that VPNs were blocked.
“Within the last few days illegal VPN ports in the country have been blocked,” said Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard, the head of parliament’s information and communications technology committee, according to Mehr. “Only legal and registered VPN scan from now on be used.”
Internet censorship in Iran has increased since 2005 given many users saw it as their ‘saving grace’; an easy way to get around Iran’s strict press laws.
The Iranian regime opponents have previously expressed their heavy reliance on Web-based communication with the outside world.
Iran is holding a presidential election in June, its first since 2009, when a disputed result led to the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Protesters used services like Facebook to communicate during those “Green Movement” demonstrations, and the government has taken steps to curb access to the Internet in the last few months, apparently determined to prevent a repeat this time.
An internet user named Mohamad from the Iranian city of Isfahan confirmed that VPNs had been blocked.
“VPNs are cut off. They’ve shut all the ports,” he said in a Facebook message, adding he was using another form of software to access the service without a VPN. He said Skype and Viber, internet services used to make telephone calls, had also been blocked.
Iranian authorities banned Google’s email service for a week last year but reopened access after complaints from officials. They have also announced plans to switch citizens onto a domestic Internet network which would be largely isolated from the World Wide Web.