Co-authored by Clare Richardson.
As Iran’s tightly-controlled June 14th presidential election approaches, observers worldwide are scouring the Web for tweets, photos and videos that offer hints of events inside the country. Yet to the dismay of overseas opposition groups, the Iranian government has mounted a sophisticated — and so far largely successful — effort to choke off Internet access inside the country.
“More than a month ago, we saw how the speed of the Internet shut down,” said Trita Parsi, president of the Washington-based National Iranian American Council. “They started to make it much more difficult for people to Skype with the outside world.”
At the same time, an American government effort to provide Internet to Iranian dissidents by developing devices that create illicit web access or evade electronic surveillance – so-called “Internet-in-a suitcase” – remains underfunded and not yet fielded. Internet freedom experts warn that unless there is an exponential increase in funding, the U.S. won’t catch up with regime tactics.
“The U.S. State Department is helping develop a number of general-use surveillance circumvention technologies,” Sascha Meinrath, founder of the Commotion Wireless Project, a non-profit group trying to build such devices, said in an email. “These efforts are, however, incredibly modest and need to be dramatically scaled up to keep apace of efforts by authoritarian regimes to crack down on open communications.”