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Iran: Sorry for the Gmail blockade – we were trying to block YouTube

G+ flooded with relieved Iranians after week-long blackout

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Iran has restored access to Gmail and other Google services, but a block on YouTube remains in place.

The Islamic Republic blocked a wide range of Google services last week in the wake of the controversy about the Innocence of Muslims, an amateur anti-Islamic film whose trailer was uploaded to YouTube. Surfers in Iran were left unable to use Gmail and Google secure search but still able to access Google's regular search function as a result of the restrictions, AFP reports.

However the block on Gmail proved to be particular unpopular, even prompting complaints in the country's parliament. One legislator, Hossein Garousi, even threatened to summon telecoms minister Reza Taqipour to parliament for questioning over the web-mail block, Reuters reports.

Under this type of pressure, Iran has decided to lift the web-mail embargo. "The council on Internet filtering communicated its order to the Telecommunications Ministry regarding the lifting of the ban on the Gmail service," Mohammad Reza Aghamiri, a member of the committee, told the Mehr news agency.

"We wanted to ban YouTube and then Gmail was cut off as well, and this was unintended," he told Mehr.

Internet users in the country reported that they were able to access Gmail on 30 September, lifting a blockade that was applied around 24 September.

Iran has long operated one of the tightest filtering regimes in the world. Sites expressing anti-government views and undesirable content are routinely blocked and these restrictions were tightened when social media sites (including Facebook and YouTube) were used by opposition groups in protest against the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

The more tech-savvy users in the country use VPN technology to get around these restrictions. Iran has long harboured ambitions to develop a home-grown version of the internet that is free of any content deemed un-Islamic or otherwise undesirable. Such a scheme faces considerable technical obstacles, not least because Iran wants to retain continued access to the international internet for its elite users (banks, ministries and big companies).

Burma created something akin to an insular intranet two years ago, but other countries - however repressive - have not followed its lead. ®

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