The Iranian government isn’t exactly known as a champion of free speech and access to information. Thus, it’s never shocking to hear about Internet censorship in the country, the state of which appears to be getting worse all the time.
Today, news surfaced that the country is blocking access to websites that use HTTPS. That means that a number of popular, secure websites like Google, Gmail, Yahoo and even online banking sites are inaccessible. Anything based outside the country that uses a secure connection via HTTPS is blocked, according to news reports and a thread on Hacker News. Secure sites based within Iran are reportedly still accessible.
The shutdown is said to be timed to coincide with the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, and is believed to be temporary. Exactly how long it will be in place is unclear. The revolution culminated with the fall of the Shah on February 11, 1979, but the country did not officially become an Islamic Republic until April 1. So, the restrictions could be lifted this weekend, or perhaps several weeks from now.
Meanwhile, developers and members of the Hacker News community are brainstorming ways to help Iranians get around the limitations. Some have suggested setting up Tor bridges for Web users in Iran, although that presents its own logistical issues.
These measures come just as the Iranian government begins to roll out longer-term plans to effectively strangle the Internet to death and create a new, state-sponsored Web for citizens of that country to use. The government is even requiring Internet cafe owners to videotape all patrons so that Web surfers can be more easily identified by authorities.
If news reports are accurate, Iranians could be facing a level of Web censorship that approaches that which exists in North Korea, where public access to the Internet we all know and love is barely existent. Whether or not Iranians, who have already had a taste of what the Web can do, will tolerate such restrictions without a struggle, remains to be seen.
That the Iranian government is clamping down on Internet access is hardly a surprise. In 2009, they saw firsthand the kind of unrest that emerge amidst a well-connected and dissatisfied citizenry. Since then, governments in nearby countries have been overthrown or otherwise challenged in the so-called Arab Spring.