Monday, May 25, 2009

Internet Filtering and the Prosecutor General

The most annoying thing about Internet filtering in Iran is the seemingly random nature of it. You cannot predict what is going to happen tomorrow, or even an hour later. A website could be blocked for only a few days, or it could be blocked for the rest of its life. Internet users meanwhile, are in a constant worry about their online activities since their favorite social networking or blogging website could be blocked at any time and they have to migrate their work to somewhere else, waiting for the next ban.

But why is that so? One might argue that the question is fundamentally wrong, since everything happening in Iran is chaotic and non-deterministic in nature, and Internet filtering is not an exception. Well, that's right. The reason behind the chaotic way everything works in Iran is that there it's not the law that governs actions, but the will of a certain person. How that person feels at the present can steer the whole country to another direction. In case of Internet filtering, this person is none other than the infamous judge Mortazavi who have never lost an opportunity for restricting freedom of expression. He has always been going way past the line, especially when it comes to persecuting journalists and Internet users, but who is to battle the Prosecutor General of Tehran? While the Iranian law clearly states that Internet filtering is to be carried out by a committee supervised by the Cultural Revolution High Council, Mortazavi is his own law. His method can only be described as blackmail. He orders ISPs to block websites, threatening (implicitly or explicitly) that they will be shut down if they don't cooperate.

The dual nature of Internet censorship is one of the reasons Mortazavi can act like this. Some websites are blocked by the Iranian Telecommunications Company (the company that ISPs get their data links from), while others (most of them actually) are blocked by ISPs that are far more manipulatable by the Prosecutor General.

While the very nature of censorships laws in Iran is immoral, we could probably get along much better if there was a clear formula by which everything worked. The recent blocking of Facebook, while disastrous and most probably illegal, was expectable. People were connecting to each other and encouraging others to participate in the coming election and vote for anyone but the current president, and the last thing the Ahmadinejad administraion wants is a high turnout in the election, because then he will certainly lose. But then there are other blockings that still seem random and chaotic and one wonders that probably the Prosector General has not been feeling well lately, and he's probably ordered a few more websites blocked just to feel better.