With its "national information network" nearing completion, Iran may soon be able to seal itself off from the World Wide Web. The ambitious project to create a second, Halal Internet -- launched eight years ago at the beginning of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first term -- is already up and running in government ministries and state bodies, where it shields users from what Iranian Minister of Communication and Information Technology Reza Taqipour has called "untrustworthy" material controlled by the "hands of one or two specific countries" (presumably, Israel and the United States). Now, it could be on its way to households and Internet cafes across the country. The BBC reports:
For months now, Iranian social media sites have been full of postings about slow download speeds and intermittent access...
While some put the blame on the country's overloaded and outdated internet infrastructure, others have a more sinister explanation for what is going on.
'When we get old we'll be able to tell our grandchildren about the time when a demon came along and nationalised the internet,' wrote Habil, an angry internet user from Tehran.
What Habil was referring to was the Iranian government's plan to create what it is calling a 'national information network' -- in effect a sort of corporate intranet system for the whole country.
The Wall Street Journal has more on why the regime is following in the footsteps of Cuba and North Korea:
"The leadership in Iran sees the project as a way to end the fight for control of the Internet, according to observers of Iranian policy inside and outside the country. Iran, already among the most sophisticated nations in online censoring, also promotes its national Internet as a cost-saving measure for consumers and as a way to uphold Islamic moral codes...
The unusual initiative appears part of a broader effort to confront what the regime now considers a major threat: an online invasion of Western ideas, culture and influence, primarily originating from the U.S. In recent speeches, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top officials have called this emerging conflict the "soft war."
No doubt, the 2009 post-election protests, which were at least partly enabled by Internet communication, are also on the supreme leader's mind heading into this year's electoral contest. That said, officials seem to be doing their best to sell the regime's story: Over the weekend, the news website YJC quoted one Internet police official as saying that Facebook, a "dangerous and disgusting spy tool," is responsible for a third of all divorces in Iran.