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Deja vote: Iran blocks VPN use ahead of elections

Crashes YouTube and Facebook at the same time - report

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Iranian authorities have blocked the use of most virtual private network (VPNs) to stop people in the country from circumventing the government's internet filter, three months before the country holds its presidential election.

"Within the last few days illegal VPN ports in the country have been blocked," Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard, the head of the Iranian parliament's information and communications technology committee, told Mehr news agency, according to Reuters. "Only legal and registered VPNs can from now on be used."

The Iranian government filters the internet for anything it regards as offensive or criminal. With a VPN, Iranians could get around that specific content firewall by appearing to access the web from another country.

There are some reports that the attempt to stop VPNs has also cut off Iranians' access to sites like Yahoo!, Google and Facebook.

Non-profit internet freedom group Project Anita was reporting "heavy interference" over VPN and SSL in the country over the weekend.

"Three days on, the problem is still in place," the group's blog said yesterday. "All the L2TP and PPTP protocols remained closed. SSL works, but they managed to somehow highjack the requests to youtube.com and facebook.com."

Iran is set to hold its presidential elections on 14 June. The previous election, in 2009, triggered protests from citizens over what all three candidates claimed were manipulated votes and vote-rigging. Protests in the streets of Tehran triggered a military clampdown which led to the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, whose shooting by a member of the voluntary militia Basij was captured on camera and uploaded to YouTube.

Protestors also used social sites like Facebook to communicate, and Twitter even delayed a scheduled upgrade so that its micro-blogging service would not be down during daylight hours in Iran. It would appear that the government is attempting to make sure the internet cannot be used in the same way this time round. ®

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