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Iran Unveils ‘Smart’ Web Filtering

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Iran is one of the most heavily censored countries in the world. Although the country boasts of second highest percentage of population having access to the web in the Middle East, almost half of the top 500 sites on the web; including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google Plus; remain blocked in the country. However, internet users in Iran can now hope for a more open web and should be able to access a lot more content since the government has decided to implement ‘smart filtering’ to control access to the blocked websites.

Currently, Iranian authorities use blanket bans to block websites containing criminal or unethical content. That means, even if only one page of a site having millions of pages contains something offensive, the Iranian government could block access to the entire domain. However, smart filtering would allow the authorities to block only certain portions of a website while other pages would remain accessible to the public. This would dramatically cut down the number of blocked websites and would also allow the Iranian web users to access content from sites that are known to host inflammatory content. According to the estimates provided by the Iranian authorities, once the ‘smart filtering’ system comes into effect, only 10 to 15 percent of some social networks would remain inaccessible to the Iranian web users. However, the unveiling is not going to lift the ban on sites that are already blocked in the country (for instance, Facebook and YouTube). That’s because, once a site has been blocked, it can only be unblocked by the committee which determines criminal web content on a case by case basis.

The smart filtering system being deployed by the Iranian authorities is capable of detecting and blocking inappropriate content, including videos, images and text; on the web. The system is said to be highly accurate and is capable of rapid detection and blockage of content. The system was first deployed for a social network on a pilot basis and once it started delivering results, the authorities decided roll it out for other sites and social networks as well. However, the implementation of the system would be slow and gradual (consisting of three different phases) and is expected to take up to ten months.

While unveiling the system, the government also announced that web filtering would now be done at the user level. What this means is that certain pages of a website would become accessible or get blocked depending on the age and profession of the user. While announcing these measures, communications minister Mahmoud Vaezi also said that the country is developing a new system which will require all Iranian citizens to log in with their names every time they want to go online. This would allow the government to track online activities of all the users that connect to the web from Iran. So while the launch of smart filtering system is a boon for the Iranian internet users, they should remain prepared for enhanced online monitoring in the near future.

January 26, 2015

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