Prior to the Iranian government?s recent crackdown, the Iranian blogosphere, known as Weblogistan, was a relatively vibrant community. It was home to an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 web blogs that focused on topics ranging from cultural, social, and even limited political discussions. Unfortunately, the Iranian government?s crackdown on blogs and other online content it deems objectionable should come as no surprise.
First, a number of other countries have implemented restrictive Internet filters. According to the OpenNet Initiative the following countries have implemented restrictive Internet filters: Yemen , Tunisia , Burma , Singapore , China , Bahrain , United Arab Emirates , and Saudi Arabia (Terror Web Watch). While it is not surprising that these non-democratic countries implement restrictive Internet filters, it should be noted that some democratic countries also implement Internet filters. For example, Germany and France , through the force of law, restrict access to on-line Nazi propaganda. Certainly, there are tremendous differences between Germany and France?s democratically approved Internet filters and those filters implemented by the aforementioned authoritarian regimes. However, it is important to note that Internet filtering is fairly common and widely used around the world.
Second, the technology required to implement restrictive Internet filters is easily acquired from a variety of commercial sources. For example, the technology used by Iran, SmartFilter by Secure Computing, is available through resellers around the world. A number of other companies, such as Websense, also provide Internet filtering technology. As a result, any regime interested in restricting its citizens Internet access can purchase and install the appropriate filtering software, which may need little in the way of customization or specialized development to block access to portions of the Internet.
Third, the Iranian government has cracked down on more traditional forms of media. For example, since 2001, the Iranian government has shut down more than 100 newspapers and magazines. Moreover, according to the OpenNet Initiative ?more than 40 journalists have been detained or arrested for criticizing the state since 2000.? Additionally, a recent crackdown on the media resulted in the incarceration of approximately 30 journalists. This crackdown on traditional media has demonstrated that the Iranian government has the desire to control its traditional forms of media, so it should not be a surprise that the government is also attempting to control on-line media.
It is, however, important to note that Internet filters are an imperfect application of state policy. Filtering technology is imperfect because it is not difficult to circumvent. For example, when reformist news sites were blocked in August 2004, bloggers inside and outside Iran mirrored parts of the sites by using Real Simple Syndication (RSS). This allowed bloggers to post restricted content on other accessible sites, thereby allowing Iranian citizens to access content by visiting non-restricted sites. Moreover, the knowledgable Iranian citizen can utilize anonymous proxy servers to evade government Internet filters and thereby browse the Internet uncensored.