Iran on Monday removed online blocks on Gmail but a government Internet filtering committee official said other, additional censorship was being prepared against YouTube, according to reports.
Internet users in Iran found themselves able to freely access their Gmail accounts for the first time since the blocks were suddenly established on September 24.
The secure-protocol HTTPS version of Google search was also made accessible after being blocked at the same time. The unsecure HTTP version of Google search was never blocked.
Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, the secretary of an official group tasked with detecting Internet content deemed illegal, had said in a message last week that “Google and Gmail will be filtered nationwide… until further notice.”
But Mohammad Reza Miri, a member of the telecommunications ministry committee tasked with filtering the Internet in Iran, was quoted on Monday by the Mehr news agency as saying the Gmail block was an “involuntary” consequence of trying to reinforce censorship of Google’s YouTube video-sharing site.
“Unfortunately, we do not yet have enough technical knowhow to differentiate between these two services. We wanted to block YouTube and Gmail was also blocked, which was involuntary,” he said.
“We absolutely do not want YouTube to be accessible. That is why the telecommunications ministry is seeking a solution to fix the problem to block YouTube under the HTTPS protocol while leaving Gmail accessible. That will soon happen.”
Iran has censored YouTube since mid-2009, after opposition demonstrators protesting the re-election victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in polls they believed rigged started posting videos online of their gatherings.
A Google website which monitors the amount of traffic for its services in each country shows YouTube has been effectively censored in Iran since then (http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/traffic/?r=IR&l=YOUTUBE&csd=134…).
A member of Iran’s High Council on Cyberspace, which provides policy advice, Kamyar Saghafi, was quoted by Mehr last week suggesting that the action against Google services was “to boycott” the US company over an anti-Islam film available on YouTube that has sparked Muslim protests worldwide.
Iran has an estimated 34 million Internet users, and the restrictions on Gmail and Google search were met with criticism from some quarters.
Hossein Entezami, the representative of newspaper directors on Iran’s press monitoring commission, said they “showed decision-makers have little knowledge of society’s needs today, because you can’t just close a search engine and a form of communication for the people,” Mehr last week reported.
Iran is developing its own, closed version of the Internet for use in the country which it says will be clear of any content deemed un-Islamic. Officials have said that, at least initially, the Iran intranet will exist alongside the filtered Internet and not replace it.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]