Iran takes a path towards internet isolation

Sigh (via the Guardian):

Iran… is clamping down heavily on web users before parliamentary elections in March with draconian rules on cybercafes and preparations to launch a national… internet.

Tests for a countrywide network aimed at substituting services run through the world wide web have been carried out by Iran’s ministry of information and communication technology, according to a newspaper report. The move has prompted fears among its online community that Iran intends to withdraw from the global internet.

The police this week imposed tighter regulations on internet cafes. Cafe owners have been given a two-week ultimatum to adopt rules requiring them to check the identity cards of their customers before providing services.

“Internet cafes are required to write down the forename, surname, name of the father, national identification number, postcode and telephone number of each customer,” said an Iranian police statement, according to the news website Tabnak.

“Besides the personal information, they must maintain other information of the customer such as the date and the time of using the internet and the IP address, and the addresses of the websites visited. They should keep these informations for each individuals for at least six months.”

In recent weeks, users in Iran have complained of a significant reduction in internet speed, reported the reformist newspaper, Roozegar, which has recently resumed publication after months of closure. The newspaper said it appeared to be the result of testing the national internet.

“According to some of the people in charge of the communication industry, attempts to launch a national internet network are the cause of disruption in internet and its speed reduction in recent weeks,” Roozegar reported.

Some government websites, however, cited other reasons for the drop in speed.

“If the national internet comes into effect, the internet in the country will act like an internal network and therefore visiting the websites needs permission from the people in charge. Users outside Iran also need permission to visit websites running from inside the country,” Roozegar’s report said.

Speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, an Iranian IT expert with close knowledge of the national internet project, which he described as a corporate-style intranet, said: “Despite what others think, intranet is not primarily aimed at curbing the global internet but Iran is creating it to secure its own military, banking and sensitive data from the outside world.

“Iran has fears of an outside cyber-attack like that of the Stuxnet, and is trying to protect its sensitive data from being accessible on the world wide web.”