Fleeting access to social media in Iran due to "technical problems," says state official
Brief access to social media sites in Iran on Monday sparked debates that the Iranian government might be liberalizing its Internet policies, but the country's firewalls that block sites like Facebook and Twitter were back in place on Tuesday.
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Many Iranians use proxy servers to trick systems into believing they are outside Iran to access foreign social media.
Randjbar-Daemi said the authorities might experiment with ways of allowing most access to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, as they do with the search site Google, while using technology to block certain kinds of activity.
"I think we could be seeing a partial unblocking of Facebook, along the lines of Google, in which some search results are filtered but others are not," he said. "Rouhani would also score clear kudos within his supporters in this way."
Arash Tajik, an IT administrator in Tehran, said he believed that the brief opening might have been part of an experiment by the authorities: "They are testing what will happen if they remove the filter and whether they can control the situation or not," said Tajik, who accessed Facebook unfiltered on Monday.
Like Tajik, another Internet user in Tehran called Hossein, said he could not use Facebook without aproxy server on Tuesday. Hamed, a 32-year-old journalist and teacher, said he too found Facebook and Twitter blocked on Tuesday, said Internet providers could face penalties if the opening was unauthorized.
Iran has accused Israel and the United States of cyberwar against its computer systems in the past, notably involving its energy and nuclear facilities. It did not link this week's brief failure of its social media firewall to hacking activity.
Though Rouhani has spoken of reform, any move to ease controls will need approval from the ruling establishment of conservative clerics and security officials, including Khamenei.
Facebook and Twitter became widely accessible to Iranian users on Monday for the first time since 2009, when the services were blocked in the midst of widespread protests against former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to reports emerging from the country.
Reporters in Tehran for the New York Times and the Washington Post both said on Twitter that they could access the service freely on Monday.
Jillian York, the director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization, said she had received multiple reports from citizens using several different Iranian Internet service providers confirming that the bans appeared to have been lifted.
"Some other blocked sites are reporting themselves unblocked - the National Iranian American council is reporting themselves unblocked as well," York said, referring to a U.S.-based nonprofit group.
Iranian authorities blacked out Facebook and Twitter in the summer of 2009, when Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election victory sparked massive protests that gained momentum with the help of organizers using social media.
The administration of the new president, the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani who took office last month, has signaled - on social media, no less - that it will adopt a much different tack from that of its hardline predecessor.
Marking the Jewish New Year earlier this month, Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarifwrote on their Twitter accounts to wish Jews a happy Rosh Hashanah.
No Iranian government statement about loosening the restrictions was reported on Monday.