Sunday, May 20, 2007

Iran Is a World Leader in Internet Censorship

The Iranian government uses filtering of political and social content in its campaign of online censorship. According to a study published by OpenNet Initiative, a coalition of Internet and democracy researchers at Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and Toronto universities, Iran was one of the six countries with “pervasive” filtering of political content, along with Syria, Tunisia, Burma, Vietnam and China (San Jose Mercury News, 17 May 2007).

The study covered thousands of Websites and 120 Internet service providers. Iran also was one of the most active countries censoring social content, joining Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen and UAE in this category.

The Islamic Republic was also among governments that block entire Internet-based applications like YouTube and Google Maps.

The study found that as more groups and individuals use the Internet to communicate and organize, more governments see it as a threat and are tempted to censor. The online activists (or hactivists) also seek new ways to circumvent the filtering, OpenNet Initiative reports. The use of “proxy” techniques or special software is widely used by the activists to bypass the government censorship. OpenNet Initiative will next study government surveillance of Internet users.

Many US companies, including Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, provide the technology that allows the countries to censor the Internet, Mercury News reported. OpenNet Initiative study brings to light efforts by human-rights groups, investment groups, online activists, and Internet companies negotiate a code of ethical conduct for preventing corporations from selling filtering products to censoring countries.

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