Iran expands “smart” Internet censorship

DUBAI, (Reuters) – Iran is to expand what it calls “smart filtering” of the Internet, a policy of censoring undesirable content on websites without banning them completely, as it used to, the government said yesterday.

The Islamic Republic has some of the strictest controls on Internet access in the world, but its blocks on U.S.-based social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are routinely bypassed by tech-savvy Iranians using virtual private networks (VPNs).

Under the new scheme, Tehran could lift its blanket ban on those sites and, instead, filter their content.

The policy appears to follow President Hassan Rouhani’s push to loosen some social restrictions, but it was not clear if it would mean more or less Internet freedom. Iranians on Twitter expressed concern that, as part of the new policy, the government would try to block VPN access to such sites.

“Presently, the smart filtering plan is implemented only on one social network in its pilot study phase and this process will continue gradually until the plan is implemented on all networks,” Communications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi said, according to official news agency IRNA.

He appeared to be referring to Instagram, the photo-sharing site owned by Facebook, which is already being filtered, but not blocked.

Instagram was initially available uncensored in Iran but some user accounts were subsequently blocked, notably @RichkidsofTehran, a page full of photos of young, rich Iranians flaunting their wealth.

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