As Iranians demonstrate in the wake of the election, Iranian officials have tried to control access to information by kicking journalists out of the country and limiting what official news outlets can report. Now the Wall Street Journal and other publications are reporting on how Iranian officials are using the Internet to censor information and spy on citizens using deep packet inspection.
DPI allows network operators or a government to intercept data flowing over the Internet, deconstruct it to examine for particular keywords and then reconstruct it in a matter of seconds. The following statement can be attributed to Computer & Communications Industry Association President & CEO Ed Black.
“Reports that Iran is using this technology to detect political dissenters online are disturbing. The Internet can be a tool to enhance political communication and participation in a democracy – or it can become an even more intrusive way for a government to control access to information, spy on its citizens and detect political adversaries.
“George Orwell’s vision of a telescreen in every home or office that can make it possible for authorities to see and hear a citizen at any time is no longer fiction. If these news reports in the aftermath of the 2009 election are correct, it is 1984 in Iran. They come just weeks after reports China was using deep packet inspection as part of the so-called ‘Great Firewall.’
“When network operators – either a government or commercial operator – use deep packet inspection, the privacy of Internet users is compromised. In the wrong hands, this privacy invasion quickly turns into a human rights violation. Iran is yet another example of why the use of certain technologies such as deep packet inspection needs to be restricted.
“Controlling access to information has been a hallmark of repressive regimes throughout history. The techniques are now more advanced and more insidious. A country’s policy on Internet freedom and openness should be noted as part of our State Department’s regular monitoring of human rights. There needs to be a coordinated effort across all departments and agencies to bring the full power and attention of the U.S. Government in promoting Internet freedom as a human rights issue and as a democracy-building endeavor.
“While the United States can’t control what happens in Iran, it can be a model for practices that support democracy. Restricting the use of DPI to protect the freedom of the Internet is a step toward preserving freedom that responsible, democratic governments should be taking. If the U.S. government and others who care about liberty don’t push Internet freedom to the top of the priority list now, they’ll be failing the future.”