The Washington Post reports Iran has put in place the basic infrastructure for a closed intranet, with researchers uncovering more than 10,000 devices connected to the system. Some sites, primarily government and academic, and email and other service providers are already in place. This puts Iran a step closer to disconnecting from the global internet — a move the head of Iran’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Reza Taqipour, suggested in August could take place as early as 2013.
A nation-wide intranet would give the government new means to control access to information, especially in the event of domestic discontent:
“Having the infrastructure for a skeleton Iran-only internet in place would give the Iranian government greater power to shut off access to the Internet at times of civil unrest, such as the anti-government protests that swept Iran in 2009.
During the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak’s regime tried to stall its spread by shutting off access to the Internet — a move that largely backfired when it caused panic. Having a national network operational could help prevent a similar outcome in Iran.”
Internet access in Iran is already heavily controlled via a filtering system similar to the Great Firewall of China that blocks around 27 percent of all internet sites. Switching to an intranet approach would bring Iran’s networked communication system closer in line with those of other regimes with tightly controlled freedom of speech, including North Korea. Kwangmyong, the North Korean intranet started in 2000, is the only networked access available to the general population with the exception of the similarly closed cell phone network. Reports indicate “only central party, national security units, and some Cabinet-level government organizations, as well as foreign diplomatic missions, joint ventures, and foreign individuals staying in Pyongyang can have ‘full but monitored’ access” to the real deal.
But Iran is not North Korea: as of 2009 Iran had 8,214,000 internet users. Millions of Iranians, many of them savvy enough to use officially outlawed virtual private networks to mask their behavior and avoid filters, are already familiar with the world wide web and use it in their daily lives for school, work and their own entertainment. Even with a domestic structure in place to mimic the global internet, it’s hard to imagine cutting off those users from a resource they have come to know and rely on would be met without resistance. But it appears that Iran is now closer to replacing the Information Super Highway with an Information Cul de Sac.