Iran's 'Halal' Network
Iran's censorship of the Internet increased markedly following disputed elections in 2009 that saw thousands of anti-government protesters flood the streets of Tehran. Access to Western sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were cut off and, in 2011, Iran began work on a "halal" network that would exist only within the country. The plan, according to one minister, was that users would only be able to access content that maintained the appropriate "ethical and moral level."
Although Tehran says it's still working on this intranet, three years later the country continues to rely on censors to blacklist and filter websites deemed threatening to the Islamic republic. Creating an entirely new system without an already existing infrastructure, like in China, has proven to be difficult. And many users still manage to access Western social networking sites through proxies.
The Evolving Turkish Model
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in an ongoing battle against the "dark forces" of the Internet since anti-government protests swept the country last June. He went on the attack in early 2014 when secret audio recordings were posted online that appeared to incriminate his family in corruption. His government ordered Twitter and YouTube blocked in March. Despite a court order to reverse Erdogan's edict, YouTube is reportedly still inaccessible. Erdogan has viewed the recent success of his party in municipal elections as a mandate to continue the Internet crackdown. Turkey's spy agency was given increased power to access users' data and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have begun to use technology similar to that being used in China to scan and log online activity.
At first glance, Russia might seem an appropriate candidate for a Chinese-style firewall. Homegrown Russian sites like the Yandex search engine and Vkontakte, a social network, have larger shares of the Russian market than their Western competitors. But these same companies owe some of their success to foreign practices and investment.
Yandex is registered in the Netherlands and is traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York. VKontakte's founder fled Russia in April after he said he was forced into giving up his shares in the company to figures close to the Kremlin. Leaders at both companies have complained about the new Internet legislation in Russia potentially harming their businesses.
Up until now, Russia has largely targeted individual websites and bloggers, like opposition figure Aleksei Navalny, with shutdowns or punishments. But it seems clear the Kremlin wants to do more. Although a "sovereign Internet" may be the Kremlin's ideal, a layered approach—similar to that seen in Turkey—where Internet freedoms are slowly stripped away, may be the most likely scenario.
This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.