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Iran's Next Step in Building a 'Halal' Internet

Technicians monitor data flow in the control room of an internet service provider in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 15, 2011.

Technicians monitor data flow in the control room of an internet service provider in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 15, 2011.

For years, officials in Iran have talked about building what they call a “Halal Internet” – an Internet for Iranians completely separate from the rest of the world. Recently, government officials in Iran unveiled a new measure in their continuing effort to monitor where its citizens can and cannot go online. It is an Iran-only search engine called “Yooz.”

Yooz is the Persian word for “cheetah.” Iranians, especially young Iranians, are big Internet users. Western-based search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo are very popular. But Yooz is designed to be the opposite of those sites.

Officials say Yooz will perform searches of Iran-based and Persian language websites. Mehdi Naghavi is the Minister for Information and Communications Technology. He oversees Yooz. Mr. Naghavi says the search engine will collect search information for users to make searches faster and “more secure.” Mr. Naghavi says Yooz will, in his words, “help Iranians circumvent the U.S.-led economic sanctions and grant the academic world the access to the Persian cyberspace.”

Iranian officials monitor Internet traffic in and out of Iran closely. Yooz is the latest tool to filter out material and websites the government finds objectionable. Officials are constantly blocking new websites created by free speech activists. During national elections and sensitive times, they even slowed down Internet traffic leaving users frustrated.

Some technology experts doubt Iran’s claims of building a completely separate national Internet. They say Iran has built what they call a “filternet” – a heavily censored and filtered Internet.

British Small Media is a web analysis company. In a recent report, it states that Iran is investing in a “filternet” and has doubled the budget for Information and Communications Technology in just a few years. The report also states that popular websites and applications such as Instagram and WhatsApp are being blocked more frequently.

Critics argue whether it is even possible for a country to turn back once it is connected to the Internet. Egypt and Syria tried to block the Internet during sensitive times. Both countries found the effects of blocking its citizens from the Internet even more damaging.

China’s “Great Firewall” is the largest web filtering and censorship operation in the world. Chinese officials use it to filter objectionable speech while permitting the free flow of international trade. But even that system is not foolproof. Internet users in China can still circumvent filters from the government using Tor, VPNs and Psiphon to hide their activities.

But it is clear that Iranians should not use Yooz if they want to search the entire Internet.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Doug Bernard reported this story from Washington. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

censor v. to examine books, movies, letters, etc., in order to remove things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc.

filter – v. to remove something unwanted by using a filter

foolproof – adj. done, made, or planned so well that nothing can go wrong

objectionable – adj. not good or right

Psiphon – n. a system of communication technologies that permit Internet users to bypass government filters and censors.

Tor – n. a type of software used to prevent people from learning one’s location or Internet browsing history

VPNn. a network that uses the Internet to provide remote offices or individual users with secure access to a network; an abbreviation for Virtual Private Network

unveilv. to show or reveal something to others for the first time

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