How to Neutralize IRI Filtering
Three years ago in March 2002, I wrote an article about using proxy servers to read the Internet content that are filtered [http://www.ghandchi.com/119-Proxy.htm]. At the time, only a few political sites were censored by Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) using filtering, and the regime did not acknowledge that it was doing it. Still the Internet was not that important for the regime and IRI was busy shutting down the newspapers.
And those who were technically doing the work of IRI's filtering, and were seemingly the builders of the Internet in parts of Iran, when I confronted them on a Usenet newsgroup, and asked them directly about their filtering, they answered that they were filtering the porn sites, which showed that they were involved in the work of filtering in Iran. I told them that an Internet user like a family can decide the kind of content they like for themselves or their children and filter their accessed content accordingly, but the regime cannot decide this for all companies and the people of Iran.
In the meantime, I noted a couple of political sites that I had heard were filtered in the Internet access of school networks in Iran at the time, schools that these people were involved with, and they answered that those are the terrorists, and I then asked them if those people were doing terrorist activities on their Internet site, and asked what guarantees that they will not do the same censorship about others tomorrow.
They became silent and did not answer and it has been years that they are not saying how much they were part of this censorship in Iran and did the technical work of filtering for IRI, today that not only very moderate political sites are not tolerated by IRI, but even the most important discussions of documentaries and science and history sites are censored in Iran.
I hope one day these people to come forward and tell the world how this Evin prison of the Internet was built in IRI. This is not a personal matter and the same way that the likes of Oppenheimer after World War II acknowledged their mistake, these people also owe this to the Iranian people.
This is how our people are being deprived of access to knowledge and thought, and these people do not say that they had used their knowledge of computers and the Internet to serve IRI this way and still do. Yes, the mollahs are not the ones making the filters, but it is the computer experts, when some of them, are still thinking that they are helping the Iranian people with their knowledge, when they do this wicked job of filtering for money, and such a pity that if fifty years ago the scientists who made the atomic bomb, were ashamed of their work for years,whereas today some people who at first wanted the spread of knowledge and the Internet in Iran, have changed and have become the makers of the prison fence of Internet filtering around Iran.
A year after the above article, and the noted discussions, the main censor of Iran's political sites happened in May 2003. I remember that at the time Dr. Shaheen Fatemi in his Iran va Jahan site announced the filtering of his site and still my Iranscope site had not been filtered, but I immediately updated my article about how to technically do counter filtering, and noted that by using proxy servers, one could go around filtering [Please see the postscript to my article http://www.ghandchi.com/119-Proxy.hm] which was also published by Iran va Jahan at the time [http://iranvajahan.net/cgi-bin/news_en.pl?l=en&y=2003&m=05&d=12&a=11]. I also published a listing of the filtered web sites that I had received at that time [http://iranscope.ghandchi.com/0103-Banned_Websites.htm].
Three years after I had noted about censorship through filtering of the Internet, today even the documentary and news sites that the regime does not like, are filtered and the number of filtered sites has been noted as 600,000 to a million and it is said that IRI is now using semantic filtering, which means that they have a database of a great number of words that are given to the system and depending on how the content of a website uses a number of these words, the site gets filtered. Not only the documentary news sites, like my futuristic news portal site of Iranscope.com, but even my personal site [http://www.ghandchi.com] is filtered, that I wrote about in an article in May this year [http://www.ghandchi.com/407-FilteredSite.htm].
The truth is that one cannot expect any more from a regime that executes someone like Esmail Mohammadi who had not been involved in any armed activity against the regime and had only done political activism against the regime [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/IranscopeNews/message/6345] and what else can one expect of a regime that pushes the opponents like Ganji, Mohammadi, Tabazadi, and Darab-zand to the border of death in the IRI prisons. If censorship has been reduced at any particular time, it has been because of people's protests, economic needs, and international pressures, or else the wishes of the retrogressive leaders has been to shut down the newspapers, radios, televisions, and as Ayatollah Jannati had tried for years, they would not even allow the Internet to enter Iran to have the need to filter it..
Here the topic of my discussion is not about activities in the UN against the Internet filtering, IRI censorship in Iran, or the violations of human rights by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which I have discussed in other articles [http://www.ghandchi.com/209-UN.htm]. My topic here is how to *directly* counter the filtering.
Three years ago I wrote of a technical way to use the proxy and since then a great number of public proxies have been made for Iran, and most of them are free, and they provide very good service and this shows that many have recognized the need of our people in this area and have made a commitment to help. But most of these proxies themselves are either filtered or are filtered quickly. Even some institutions that make a new proxy every few weeks, and their proxies are of very high quality, are immediately filtered by IRI, and therefore become useless very quickly.
Of course, the technical solutions are not limited to public proxies. For example, if you have a friend living outside of Iran, who has Internet access at home, you can ask them to set up a private proxy at home, and to give you its address, and you can use that proxy to read the sites of your interest, and the address is not public for the regime to know it to filter.
Another way is that there are proxies that work by email and you send the web address of the site that you want to access by email, and they will send you the front page, and then you click on the links that you want to access, and the page related to those links will be sent to you by email and again you can click and again receive by other pages email. Of course, as far as I have seen the providers of this kind of service, the number of pages one can retrieve free are very little and soon one has to pay for each page making this a very expensive solution and also very tiresome, unless one can build this method inside the Internet browser itself, and of course once that happens the regime can trace the IP address and block the email port too.
Beside the existing technical options, and the solutions I noted above, one can invent new ways too. In my opinion, inside Microsoft's IE, Netscape's browser, or Mozilla browser one can make modification to make them stronger to access proxy servers. For example, if the browser can understand an address is blocked and automatically use an effective proxy server, it will make accessing filtered sites very easy for ordinary computer users.
Also if a maker of browser like Microsoft which is the maker of Internet Explorer (IE) creates a series of proxy servers with *unannounced* separate IP addresses and if those addresses are encrypted inside the IE browser code, and if inside the browser code to have a randomizer to pick one of them each time the browser needs to access a proxy site, and if it makes a *key* to contact the maker of the browser and each time the two sides agree on an IP address to use the related proxy, yet the address to stay encrypted, and that way the user without knowing what the IP address of the proxy is, or even without knowing how proxy works, can use the service, and the user is only entering the name of the filtered site in the browser as usual, and can see the site without even knowing that the proxy service has made this access possible.
Of course, if the Islamic Republic wants to decipher and filter all such proxy addresses that IE or Netscape or Mozilla make, they will have to use the browser with an automated tool repeatedly, and by monitoring the network traffic to see the IP addresses that are generated and used, and like deciphering radar codes, it will take a long time, and especially if the number of addresses in the pool is a few millions. Of course, every few months a company like Microsoft can change the addresses and send a definition update to IE users and thus the random IP address will now picked from a new pool. At any rate, such an invention and work can be done by companies like Microsoft, Netscape, Mozilla, and other web browser makers.
Of course, there are other technical ways too. For example, yahoo or google can increase the web caching of the filtered sites in their search engines, like the Internet archives, and this way those sites can be read from the Internet sites rather than direct.
Or those companies can allow their users who have user account with them to create private proxies in the yahoo system on the net and this way the users can use those proxy servers to read the content that are filtered in Iran.
These technical solutions were not my goal in this article, and actually most of these solutions are not directly doable by the Internet users.
We have about 4 to 6 million Internet users in Iran. Many of the more expert users of computers and the Internet can get to the materials of web sites by email from friends or thru the news lists or by proxy servers. In my opinion, if all those who have access to the Internet, create their own sites, and if they put the content of the filtered sites in their own sites, regime cannot arrest 4 to 6 million people, and either the regime will have to block them all which will paralyze the whole Internet system in Iran, which is in conflict with the economic and political reason that Internet was allowed to grow in Iran in the first place, or else in practice regime's filtering will lose its effectiveness.
In fact, the difference of radio, where the past regimes would paralyze them by static, and the Internet, is that the listener of a radio could not make his/her own broadcast station inside his/her country to re-broadcast the programs, and therefore the foreign radios were easily censored by static. Whereas in the Internet system, every user can also be a broadcaster, and not just in the sense of forwarding email, but in the sense of building one's own site, whether by using a blog or by using the services of a webhosting company which are cheap both in Iran and abroad, and regime cannot block them because they are so many. Moreover, by using PodCasting which uses a simple mp3 player that turns into an FM radio and even one can make a web server with it and have more than 60 gig of video, audio, and text on it to share with friends and family, in a private network in one's vicinity.
One problem such approach can create is the issue of copyright. Some sites do not have a copyright statement so that anybody can take the material and publish elsewhere and not have any problems. But if one is not sure whether the site agrees or does not agree to reprint their material then one can ask them. But in general as far as I know in most countries if a content is not reprinted for money revenues and if it is just for information sharing, the copyright laws are not an issue, but it is still better to ask about this issue about the laws of the place we live in from people who know about the law in our residence. My own personal site http://www.ghandchi.com does not have the CopyRight symbol and the reprint of my writings anywhere are thus unhampered, but you can read these rights statements on articles of others, or other sites, carefully so that they do not become an issue later.
Let me sum up that in my opinion to counter filtering of the Internet all the 4 to 6 million Iranian users should take action. It is not the early days of the Internet anymore where the ones active on it were limited and the IRI did not care to have much to do with it either [See Hooshyar Naraghi's article about the early days of the Internet http://www.cappuccinomag.com/internet/000611.shtml]. The success of the Internet at the same time brings the suppression by the IRI regime. A regime that for years had spent its time closing the newspapers, now is filtering weblogs every second.
The other work of the regime has been that, the same way as in the realm of newspapers and books, on one side it uses censorship and suppression, and on the other side it pushes the thinkers to self-censor themselves. Although I understand those sites in Iran that have lasted by using this method, but many of them, when the other sites are eliminated, will have their turn to be filtered, even they do all the self-censorship possible. In fact, when I wrote my first article about using the proxy servers to help the banned sites, my own site had not been filtered yet. Today even many scientific and documentary sites are not free of IRI filtering.
Again I repeat that I understand those who do self-censorship and my goal is not to belittle their efforts. But I want to say that the efforts of 4 to 6 million Internet users to counter Internet filtering and censorship that I suggested, will also help these sites themselves, after they are filtered, or that it will cause the regime not to be able to filter sites so easily. The regime cannot kill 4 to 6 million people. They cannot close 6 million newspapers. And Internet has made it possible to have 6 million sites in Iran.
Hoping for a day to live in an Iran with no censorship,
Sam Ghandchi, Editor/Publisher
Sept 20, 2005