How Iran filters the Internet

Microsoft is not the only U.S. company whose technology is assisting in blocking free speech, and China isn't the only country where it happens.

The OpenNet Initiative and Berkman Center have just released a new report: Internet Filtering in Iran (PDF). The press release is here (also PDF..sorry).

Here is the executive summary:

Iran has adopted one of the world’s most substantial Internet censorship regimes. Iran, along with China, is among a small group of states with the most sophisticated state-mandated filtering systems in the world. Iran has adopted this extensive filtering regime at a time of extraordinary growth in Internet usage among its citizens and a burst of growth in writing online in the Farsi language. As this report demonstrates, Iran’s sophisticated Internet censorship regime is part of a trend that the OpenNet Initiative’s research has uncovered toward states focusing on blocking expression in local languages, such as Farsi, and with a particular view toward clamping down on what can be published through inexpensive
and popular applications, such as weblogs.

Iran is also one of a growing number of countries, particularly in the Middle East region, that rely upon commercial software developed by for-profit United States companies to carry out the core of its filtering regime. Iran has recently acknowledged, as our testing confirms, that it uses the commercial filtering package SmartFilter – made by the US-based company, Secure Computing – as the primary technical engine of its filtering system. This commercial software product is configured as part of the Iranian filtering system to block both internationally-hosted sites in English and sites in local languages.

SmartFilter, as with all commercial filtering software packages, is prone to over-blocking, errors, and a near-total lack of transparency. In effect, Iran outsources many of the decisions for what its citizens can access on the Internet to a United States company, which in turn profits from its complicity in such a regime.

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Our testing showed that online content in the Farsi language is more likely to be blocked than is comparable content in the English language. We found 499 sites blocked out of 1477 tested (34%) in our November round of tests, and 623 sites of 2025 tested (31%) filtered in our December round. The Iranian state has effectively blocked access of its citizens to many pornographic online sites, most anonymizer tools (which allow users to surf the Internet without detection), a large number of sites with gay and lesbian content, some politically sensitive sites, women’s rights sites, and certain targeted Web logs (“blogs”), among other types of sites.

Iran’s filtering regime is backed up by an extensive series of laws that control the publication of
sensitive information. The press is restrained through a broad set of media-related laws, especially the Press Law of 1986, which includes licensing and substantive regulations. Individuals who subscribe to Internet service providers (ISPs) must promise in writing not to access “non-Islamic” sites. The law requires ISPs to install filtering mechanisms that cover access to both Web sites and e-mail. Punishment for violations of content-related laws can be harsh.

Iran’s filtering regime has certain hallmarks of similar programs across the Middle East region,
such as an emphasis on blocking a large number of pornographic Web sites. Some other aspects of Iran’s blocking – such as that which targets the growing number of Farsi language blogs – sets it apart from other states in the Middle East. Our testing at multiple time periods, including the data in this report and data previously released in ONI work, show a net increase in the amount of blocking underway in Iran, including additional blocking in some content areas and reductions in blocking in others.


  • Secure Computing has sold no licenses to any entity in Iran, and any use of Secure’s software by an ISP in Iran has been without Secure Computing’s consent and is in violation of Secure Computing’s End User License Agreement. We have been made aware of ISPs in Iran making illegal and unauthorized attempts to use of our software. Secure Computing is actively taking steps to stop this illegal use of our products. Secure Computing Corporation is fully committed to complying with the export laws, policies and regulations of the United States. It is Secure Computing’s policy that strict compliance with all laws and regulations concerning the export and re-export of our products and/or technical information is required. Unless authorized by the U.S. Government, Secure Computing Corporation prohibits export and reexport of Secure products, software, services, and technology to Iran and destinations subject to U.S. embargoes or trade sanctions.

    David Burt, Public Relations Manager
    Secure Computing®
    1-206-336-1541 (Direct Phone)
    1-206-683-9508 (Mobile Phone)

  • typepad blackout

    Rebecca McKinnion has confirmed that the blackout on TypePad-hosted blogs is throughout China. As well, it has spread to the ‘’ domain. Rebecca’s site was accessible from Shanghai as late as yesterday afternoon, but it was only accessible v…

  • They may not sell licences to Iran, but they admit selling to Tunisia, which is not so far behind in violating freedom of speech. As their PM manager told me, “We sell to ISPs where the law allows. It’s really up the customer how they use our software.”

    See full email exchange at:

  • Globalization & Neo-Colonialism
    !!WAKE UP!!

    Please review your comment before posting …


    Here we are in the Twentieth Century helplessly watching yet another Human Culture be “Oppressed” by a “White Suppremest Imperialistic Power”. Who’s country is the opposite of independant and who’s Rich illustirous lifestile is nothing more than the “Spoils of War” A Nation that FORCES its POLITICAL GOALS upon another society through MILITARY POWER is called an Empire. And when its POLITICAL GOALS are RACIALY and FINANCIALLY motivated its called a “HATE CRIME” or WAR CRIME/CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY And don’t be mistaken an EMPIRE is exactly what the United States intends to build. Expressing no COMPASHION FOR HUMANITY, CONCIENCE nor sense of WRONG or RIGHT the FACIST WHITE SUPPREMEST IMPERIALISTIC POWER known as the United States Government has yet again SLANDERED and OPPRESSED another HUMAN SOCIETY. Justifying 3000 American lives lost in a plane accident the United States Launched a 4 day bombardment of a heavily populated CIVILIAN area killing upwards of 100,000 inoccent people. Proving Once agian they will not only STEAL another cultures land but HUMILIATE and GENOCIDE their NATURAL WAY OF LIFE. Never in my life did i really think I would be so glad to live in the Great White North(THE GOOD SIDE OF THE BORDER) Now realalizing that only 195 years ago to this Canada Day that 10’s of thousands of Canadians gave their lives to stop a MASS AMERICAN INVASION for the CIVIL RIGHTS and FREEDOM we have today. We Truely are free. To the South are 260 million Brainwashed Nazi Capitalists who will Point Certain Death in whatever direction their CORUPT GOVERNMENT points its twisted finger. How Quickly ANITITERRORISM turns to TERRORISM. Now is the Time that Canada must Stand up and let our voice be heard, We are one of the GREATEST INDEPENDANT MULTICULTURAL NATIONS IN THE WORLD who practice FREE TRADE and promote FREEDOM and PROSPERITY thoughout the world. We must not forget our HERITAGE and allow ourselves to be ASSIMILATED by the “Nazi Capitalists” who now feel they are fit to rule the world. I Refer to the United States as NAZI CAPITALISTS for the simple fact that they’re government has launched a MINDWARPING PROPEGANDA scheme and commited such atrosive CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY that it can only be compared to the HOLOCAUST in reality the United States has been the AXIS OF ALL EVIL in the last 250 years. Origianaly British CONQORERS who Launched a RACIALY and FINANCIALLY motived War agianst a New Found North America LandMass. Which lead to the near GENOCIDE of an entire HUMAN CULTURE.(The “Indian Wars” not in American History!) But to what eventually turned on its MOTHERLAND Britain. Then Canada for not joining its Cause, Trying to Assimilate Not only our Culture but Land and Finances. The United States now denies its Eastern origin and Considers itself a Western Culture as it has Continued to ASSULT the rest of the FREE world since. Using FACIST BRAINWASHING NAZI PROPEGANDA to gain their populations support and financial backing. The United States Government has never Been invaded nor has another culture tried to assimilate them yet they are commited to SPENDING BILLIONS and killing THOUSANDS to fight every United States INVASION to the “last ditch” in order to expand their borders and achieve their political and economical goals.
    Yet somehow the American Public thinks they are PROTECTING THEMSELVES!?!?
    The American public has watched COVERUP after SCANDAL and COVERUP after CONSPIRACY and yet still never questions their Governments Morals or Motivations…They blindly follow in a SLAUGHTER THE COW fashion while their TAX DOLLARS are spent on the MANUFACTURING AND DISTRIBUTING of WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION instead of HEALTHCARE and EDUCATION! Yet Americans claim they fight for FREEDOM!?
    · In the 20th Century there is only ONE “TERRORIST ORGANIZATION” and it is the UNITED STATES of AMERICA. The American Citizens need to wake up and realize that thier Government WELCOMES and BRINGS WW3 to the Human Race so they can Conqour it!

    -A Canadian Citizen who loves his FREEDOM HIS COUNTRY AND THE NATURAL FREE WORLD

  • Only ourself can save China, my country, my homeland.

  • Kamal

    Perhaps our friend Mr. David Burt (Public Relations Manager of Secure Computing) would help his Iranian victims in Iran by providing solution to break these filters. As you are the people (directly or indirectly – legally or illegally) who are responsible for such restrictions for Internet users in my country Iran, you should take steps to remedy this. Why you developing such tools anyway?

  • […] Blogger Said Hatami( link in Persian) who has given instructions and address in his blog how to escapeblogrolling filtering, says his new address gets filtered too. In Global Voices there was a writing by Rebecca MacKinnon talks about which American companies and filtering in Iran. […]

  • Internet filtering is quite silly.

    Its been done in UAE, Iran, China, previously Germany, and in all schools across Canada.

    If a government needs to block its people’s internet, then that means there is something wrong with the government. This is evident in countries such as Iran that have a corupt and unstable government.

    Further: Blocking the internet also contradicts one’s right to the freedom of information, as long as its decided BY A VOTE that the information is not considered OBSCENE.

    Germany used to block Nazi information sites, this my friend, is an extreme form of blocking.

    End of my rant.

    Vlax Kiani, 16, ON CA.

  • I’m against Internet filtering, for one simple reason, it is likely to be taken too far. It is psychological thing, that the more you censor, the more people want that item or commodity.

    Where do we draw the line? Every human dislikes one thing or another. And each person in a position to impose censorship, may take things too far.

    Furthermore, if this filtering idea is allowed to take root, it’d just be a stepping stone to yet another area of the Internet that needs to be censored.

    The real solution to censorship quagmire, is never to start it.

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