Boasting one of the largest Internet filters in the world, Iran has blocked access to more than tens of thousands of websites, claiming they are either criminal or immoral. However, after blocking Google’s Gmail service for a week, the Iranian government has decided to remove the digital barrier after a barrage of complaints, some of which came from Iran’s own parliament.
"The council on Internet filtering communicated its order to the Telecommunications Ministry regarding the lifting of the ban on the Gmail service," said Mohammad Reza Aghamiri, a member of the committee, in a statement to the Mehr news agency.
After an official statement released on Sept. 23 that said Gmail would be blocked throughout Iran “until further notice,” Iranian citizens now report they are able to access Gmail again.
While the Iranian government has released no official statement as to why Google’s Gmail service was blocked in the first place, several Iranian news agencies reported the ban was connected to the inflammatory anti-Islam film “The Innocence of Muslims,” which had been uploaded to YouTube, one of Google Inc.’s many subsidiaries.
Even though YouTube was previously blocked in Iran before the film was released and Gmail access was barred, Reuters reports on the ability of Iranian citizens to “circumvent Internet restrictions” using virtual private network (VPN) software, which makes it appear as if the computer accessing the content is located in another country.
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Aghamiri told the Mehr news agency that the Gmail block was an “unintended consequence” of Iran’s attempt to reinforce the YouTube block to prevent users from watching the film.
“We wanted to ban YouTube and then Gmail was cut off as well, and this was unintended,” Aghamiri said. “We absolutely do not want YouTube to be accessible. Therefore the telecommunications ministry is trying to find a way to solve this problem so that it can block YouTube in the HTTPS protocol while leaving Gmail accessible.”
Regardless of whether or not the block on Gmail was intentional, the obstruction to one of the world’s most popular email services resulted in many complaints from Iran officials. Legislator Hossein Garousi reportedly threatened to summon Iran’s telecommunications minister Reza Taqipour for parliamentary questioning if the service was not unblocked.
Iran continues to block any site or network that expresses “anti-government views,” including sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, which helped rally citizens and circularize the massive protests following the questionable re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.
Freedom House, a pro-democracy campaign group based in New York, released a report in September that said Iranian authorities were using “more nuanced tactics in a continued campaign against Internet freedom, which included “upgrading content filtering technology” and punishing citizens for engaging in illegal online activities. The group reports that Iranian authorities have been known to arrest and/or physically attack bloggers and Internet users, including while in custody, for political and social writings.