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[liberationtech] Iranian Internet Infrastructure and Policy Report: Election Edition

Collin Anderson collin at
Wed Jul 3 04:50:31 PDT 2013


Small Media released its Election Edition of the ongoing Infrastructure
series. It should make for a quick read, but lend a great deal of technical
and political insight into the fairly aggressive campaign against access
that occurred in the final days of the lead up to the first round of voting



 The behavior of Iranian telecommunication regulators and government
officials follows a recurrent, predictable formula: the extent to which the
Internet is accessible and stable is directly connected to the security of
the political status quo. The full technical capacity and socioeconomic
considerations of authorities for the interference of the flow of
communications is never truly known until moments of uncertainty, the exact
moment when the state intervenes. Despite this pattern, spanning at least
four years, international civil society has rarely kept an institutional
knowledge accounting for how disruptions occur, more often focusing on the
effects and outcomes; particularly, in a manner that enables the
articulation of the threat model of a government challenged by its people.
Iran has caught the attention of the international public for more often
than not reasons of international politics. However, for advocates of the
free flow of information, history has shown that as Iran goes, so does much
of the rest of the world. In consideration of the prospect of observing
such rare window, timed with the first Presidential election since the
Green Movement, for seven months we have sought to document the shifts of
the country’s Internet.

The May edition of our report set the stage, describing an aggressive and
accelerated campaign against anti-filtering tools, bloggers and
communications services. These technical impediments were creative in a
manner that few developers or researchers appeared to have ever predicted.
In the fol- lowing weeks after publication, Iranians were subject to a
continually compounding set of restrictions, attacks and crackdowns, both
online and offline. In the spirit of our mission and these circumstances,
we offer in this, the June election edition, a timelines of the events that
ensued, accounted for with technical evidence and external verification.
Colloquially known as the Filternet, within the course of six weeks, Iran’s
Internet progressed from its relative sense of normality, to a nearly
unusable network, whitelisted and throttling, and then overnight back to a
routine set of restrictions.

Such a narrative is sensational in its extremity and interesting
technically, however, focusing solely on the struggle between the user and
a firewall paints only a fraction of the picture. In the same period, the
public learned of links between malware campaigns targeting journalists and
prior state-sponsored attacks on Google, informal actors used filtered
social media to intimate and identify street protesters, blocking of
websites and SMS messages appeared to foreshadow the results of the vetting
process, and reformists sites were compromised on an eleventh hour hacking
spree. State-vetted candidates not only criticized the filtering regime,
but were blocked by it and used international platforms to bypass it. The
surprise first round victory of the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani held a
lesson that applies to the Internet as well -- the politics and actions of
any system are complex to a point that understanding how it functions
requires a deeper knowledge and constant reevaluations of one’s

*Collin David Anderson* | @cda | Washington, D.C.
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