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Iranian Internet 2.0: The First Halal Internet
May 31, 2011 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Iran has a conflicting relationship with the internet. On one side, a large portion of the population are online, and even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had a well-publicized blog in 2006 (though it now seems to be offline). Then there was Iran's internet revolution in 2009, when there were country-wide internet censorship that was countered by use of web proxies. Later that same year, a company affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps purchased a majority share in the nation's telecommunications monopoly. The fact that IRGC was involved with a for-profit company was not news, as IRGC has long been involved in Iran's economy, but their role in communications was more troubling. The latest news causing a stir is a "halal" internet for Iran, "an internet that conforms to Islamic principles, to improve its communication and trade links with the world," according to a quote from head of economic affairs with the Iranian presidency, Ali Aqamohammadi.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article (paywalled, though the text may be available elsewhere), the first phase of the "halal internet" will be a country-wide intranet, while still giving banks, government ministries and large companies continued access to the regular internet. The long-term goal is to replace the global internet for Iran and other Muslim countries.

Another big goal is to "roll out its own computer operating system in coming months to replace Microsoft Corp.’s Windows," (again citing WSJ), though details are sparse.

More information and speculation: Al Jazeera has a series of links on Iran's Halal Internet.
posted by filthy light thief (32 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
We must cut the Internet's throat with a sharp knife!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:02 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile in Egypt: Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been fined $34m (£20m) for cutting off communications services during the uprising that ousted him.
posted by Anything at 2:09 PM on May 31, 2011


No no no... what we need is civilized internet, not a halal one.
posted by panaceanot at 2:11 PM on May 31, 2011


"while still giving banks, government ministries, and other large companies continued access"

Living in the U.S., I feel like I've heard some of this before.
posted by aniola at 2:11 PM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


"an internet that conforms to Islamic principles, to improve its communication and trade links with the world,"

Just write your links on these scraps of paper, and push them through the slot in the door.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:13 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


An internet without porn? It'll never last.
posted by hippybear at 2:15 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mohammadi explicitly cited China's extensive internet controls as an inspiration for the project, which will be completed with the help of what the Minister calls “foreign consultants.”

That right there tells you this won't work. People in China can access anything they want online with only minimal effort. And it will be no different for people in Iran. Those who are happy enough to play in the walled garden wouldn't have ventured out anyway, while those who want access to information will get it one way or the other. The only people this will benefit are the "foreign consultants" who are more than happy to sell expensive monitoring infrastructure to foreign despots.
posted by reformedjerk at 2:16 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does this mean my url shortener, bit.ir, might stop working?
posted by mark242 at 2:23 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Good luck with that. One of the interesting things about the Internet (and it's not really an "Internet thing" so much as it's a "modern information-technology thing") is that you can wrap one kind of traffic into another kind of traffic. It is very difficult to allow any sort of traffic without basically allowing all traffic.

You can certainly do some pretty obnoxious stuff, especially when it comes to repressing political speech and interaction, but I think that has more to do with people being easily dissuaded from seeking it out. A lot of people are just not interested enough in politics to jump through a lot of hoops involving proxies and tunnels to get to it. This is why China's Great Firewall is supposedly pretty effective outside of hardcore democracy activists.

However, what it won't be effective on is pornography. I've never seen an attempt to ban porn, large scale or small, that wasn't almost immediately bypassed somehow. And it seems like the Iranians will definitely not want porn on their 'halal' Internet. In doing so, they'll create a demand for tunnels and proxies such that anyone who wants unfiltered access will just need to consult their local horny teenager. It would be much worse if they tried only to block political speech, but the wider their censorship net is, the more people who will want to poke holes in it.

Incidentally, I think you can use the amount and type of smut being passed through an anti-censorship network as a pretty good gauge of its security. If you want a really secure network, then look for one that's used to transmit stuff that's really illegal in the jurisdiction in question. If it's not secure enough to be used for forbidden pornography, it's certainly not safe enough for forbidden politics.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:34 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


People in China can access anything they want online with only minimal effort.

Are you quite sure this is true? I certainly have no first-hand experience, but it's not what one hears here in the US.
posted by clockzero at 2:35 PM on May 31, 2011


I like how Kadin2048 used the phrase "poke holes in it" while talking about internet porn.
posted by hippybear at 2:40 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was going to go with a "the more they tighten their grip" reference, but I thought it was just a bit too heavyhanded.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:42 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Apparently they've contracted with Apple to build the whole thing out.
posted by humanfont at 2:46 PM on May 31, 2011


Fear will keep the local servers in line...
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:47 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


"People in China can access anything they want online with only minimal effort."

Yes, please explain more on this. (Will RTFA later.)
posted by marienbad at 2:53 PM on May 31, 2011


Apparently they've contracted with Apple to build the whole thing out.

Could you show me where it says that? There are a lot of links in the FPP and you could save me some time there.
posted by sourwookie at 3:00 PM on May 31, 2011


"Some of the holes in Iran’s Internet security blanket were punched by sympathetic people working within it. According to one former engineer at DCI, the government Internet company, during the 2009 protests he would block some prohibited websites only partially—letting traffic through to the outside world."

Bang and the Security is Gone.
posted by marienbad at 3:00 PM on May 31, 2011


People in China can access anything they want online with only minimal effort.

Are you quite sure this is true? I certainly have no first-hand experience, but it's not what one hears here in the US.


A number of VPN services exist for Chinese internet users who want access bad enough. Those who don't care about politics or Western internet products have no need for this, of course. For example, instead of Twitter, they use Sina Weibo and instead of Facebook, they might choose to use renren.com. But those who care about the internet outside of the firewall can pay a bit more (~$5USD a month) to do so. It's not rocket science.
posted by reformedjerk at 3:04 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those who are happy enough to play in the walled garden wouldn't have ventured out anyway, while those who want access to information will get it one way or the other.

Moving defaults is certainly important. Grandpa's homepage isn't going to be BBC.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:09 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


The problem with "wanting access bad enough" is that you have to want access bad enough.
posted by aniola at 3:12 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem with "wanting access bad enough" is that you have to want access bad enough.

Or even to know that you want it at all. Obscurity keeps a lot of people from ever even knowing about things which lie outside their experience and which is even mildly submerged by official or cultural forces. After a few years, people won't even know that there is something else to want.
posted by hippybear at 3:15 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


That right there tells you this won't work. People in China can access anything they want online with only minimal effort. And it will be no different for people in Iran. Those who are happy enough to play in the walled garden wouldn't have ventured out anyway, while those who want access to information will get it one way or the other. The only people this will benefit are the "foreign consultants" who are more than happy to sell expensive monitoring infrastructure to foreign despots.

I keep hearing this argument and while I recognize its essential truth, practically things like this can still do a great deal of harm.

1. Every day, people of the first sort you mention, those who are happy in the garden, turn into the second, while people of the second sort do not often turn into the first. Making the switch from state A to state B is hard enough, concerning the body of skills one must acquire to become more technologically savvy, without it being physically dangerous.

2. Applying terms like "halal" to the internet, while ridiculous to any thinking individual, show a pervasive attitude that's dangerous. Of course it's propaganda, but propaganda speaks from a certain attitude, to that same attitude. Propaganda doesn't reason, it asserts, and the blind, roaring assertion still exhibits a powerful influence on some people's beliefs.

3. When you legally establish a terrible censorship measure like this, it becomes a focus for other destructive measures in an attempt to establish it. Whether it's to prevent access to non-"halal" sites, information on the Tienanmen Square massacre or pirated music, it's the same. First an action is criminalized; then the things that allow people to perform that action are tainted with the same brush, then things that allow access to those, and then those, and so on. These actions ultimately all enforce conformity, about not "doing things you oughtn't," a category that somehow always includes things big companies would like you to do, but things that individuals might like to do are unlikely to receive similar protection, even if they have legitimate uses.
posted by JHarris at 3:18 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was sick of comparing Australia's filtering plans to China. Iran is even better.

I hear the 'it dosen't matter because people can get around it if they know how' argument all the time. That's bullshit. Access to the world's knowledge and communication shouldn't be based on technical skill. That's what makes the Internet so amazing, and crippling it is an attack on the Iranian people.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:29 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Speaking of China: Internet is collateral victim of crackdown on Inner Mongolia protests
posted by homunculus at 3:45 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with "wanting access bad enough" is that you have to want access bad enough.

The other problem is that it's FUCKING SCARY to defy an authoritarian government. I haven't heard of China "disappearing" anyone for looking at the wrong websites *yet,* but that doesn't mean the danger isn't there. Just ask Ai Wei Wei and his friends, if you can find them.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:16 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok. So we've got China Internet, Halal Internet, Internet minus all the freedoms the EFF is fighting for, and presumably some others.

And then within these internets, there's all these overlapping communities. Even though I have the option, I don't stray far from the websites I'm in the habit of visiting.

Some of the boundaries are more permeable, some are less permeable. What are the online equivalents of a passport?
posted by aniola at 5:56 PM on May 31, 2011


Just fyi, there is an awful lot of porn, western movies, etc. are served by the same bit lockers that serve the all the textbooks for every 2nd & 3rd world nation. Iranian students will not give up their free textbooks. And I doubt Iran will even block those sites. You might however create an environment where only those who buy a VPN gain unfettered access to the search engines.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:13 PM on May 31, 2011


Sorry I can't help myself here... Are they going to call it the "Iranternet" or something like that.. On the serious side, that is mightly scary to have such an open platform like the internet subjected to the countries control over what you can browse, talk about total control.. I mean how can the poor people of Iran lolcatz if it gets blocked..
posted by Merlin The Happy Pig at 6:13 PM on May 31, 2011


Some of the boundaries are more permeable, some are less permeable. What are the online equivalents of a passport?

Any time you hear someone with a hard-on for provable identities. Why, hello Facebook!

Ok. So we've got China Internet, Halal Internet, Internet minus all the freedoms the EFF is fighting for, and presumably some others.

Australian Internet, New Zealand Internet... plenty of Western countries are inching towards heavily filtered Internets.
posted by rodgerd at 3:22 AM on June 1, 2011


Will it...include the same porn bin Laden watched? I mean, it had to be halal, right...?
posted by Mooseli at 4:04 AM on June 1, 2011


If the phase 2 version of Halal Internet actually happens, it would be a wholly separate entity from the rest of the internet, according to the quotes I've read. It would be for a Muslim internet, "an internet that conforms to Islamic principles." Why work on filtering out the unwanted content when you don't need to include it in the first place?
posted by filthy light thief at 4:58 PM on June 1, 2011


Syria: internet services shut down as protesters fill streets for "Children's Friday"
posted by homunculus at 10:48 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


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