Thursday, October 27, 2011

VPN Services Fight for Freedom of Information in Iran

The main thorn in the paw of many Iranian citizens is Iran's lack of basic freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly. These repressive laws were put to the test in 2009 and 2010 as Iranian citizens used VPN services and identity protection software to amass protesters and broadcast their desire for freedom around the world.

But Iran's government has not gone without a fight and this week, took yet another step to reign in these freedoms. Iran's Telecommunication Minister Reza Taghipour announced Monday that the use of encrypted VPN accounts and other identity protection software to by-pass government imposed censorship filters was officially a crime and would be prosecuted by the law, German news agency Deutche Presse Agentur reported.

"Every country has its own rules for using the internet and we have our own," said Taghipour in a statement. "The use of VPN or other anti-filtering software is forbidden and considered as a crime."

This announcement seems to make millions of Iranians criminals as, according to studies done in the country by third-party sources, approximately 17 million Iranians access Facebook using a VPN, while another 5 million use the software to access other blocked information. Iran has had these rules in an official capacity for years but has been unsure how to enforce them. By attempting to track VPN service users online, the Iranian government believes it can stop protesters no longer willing to stand for these infringed freedoms.

'We have to and will take any necessary measure to confront this soft war,' the minister said, according to ISNA news agency.

Although the Iranian government cannot monitor encrypted VPN services, they plan on attempting to disrupt their use by the population. Technically this is difficult and imposing these laws previously have been spotty. For example, it is technically illegal to have a satellite dish in Iran to view TV programming from outside the country – but a look on the roofs of any major city will see satellite dishes in abundance.

Whatever steps Iran, or other governments may take to limit and censor the access to free information, VPN services will attempt to ensure these freedoms, which should be innate human rights, for oppressed people around the globe.