Iranian officials have recently enforced a nationwide ban on the use of all virtual private networks (VPNs) inside the country. The enforcement comes just three months ahead of Iran’s national elections.
The use of VPNs is quite common in parts of the world where censorship is heavy such as in Saudi Arabia, China and Iran. Since the 1979 Iran Islamic revolution the government has been ruled by a very strict theocratic state.
Now Iran is stepping up enforcement by enacting a nationwide ban on the use of all VPNs. Access to the Internet in Iran is heavily restricted with very strict filters. The government prevents most users from accessing sites on the Internet that Iranian leaders feel are detrimental to their nation, may be considered religiously offensive or even criminal, such as pornography website access.
Reuters recently reported that an official by the name of Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard, who serves as the head of Iran’s Information and Communications tech committee, confirmed the ban on VPNs. "Within the last few days illegal VPN ports in the country have been blocked," Sobhani-Fard said. "Only legal and registered VPNs can from now on be used."
Reuters also reported that users in Iran have anonymously protested the block with messages on Facebook. However, the fact that some are using Facebook shows that many have found ways around the block with the use of other types of software.
Not all VPNs are considered illegal in Iran and are oftentimes used by those involved in businesses that work outside the country. Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi who works as secretary of Iran’s Supreme Cyberspace Council, said in January of this year that some registered VPNs were legal for banking institutions and other groups that need access outside the restrictions.
This recent mandantory enforcement of a block on VPNs is the first massive effort done on the part of the Iranian government to this extent. Furthermore, many are worried that the block will end all access to popular sites such as Yahoo, Google, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook that many Iranians feel is useful to them.
There has also been talk that Iran might be making its citizens switch to a more domestic based ‘Internet’ of sorts, which would essentially put a total block on accessing the World Wide Web all together.
The Iranian government’s total ban on VPNs is obviously an attempt to prevent any future protests before the June 14 nationwide elections.
In 2009 the elections caused some rioting and protests throughout the country and inside the capital city of Tehran. Many protesters during the 2009 election claimed that the voting process was rigged and many became so violent that the military was called in to suppress it. Many young people during the protest made use of the Internet with sites like Twitter and Facebook to get their message out.