One way the Iranian government has been trying to ensure a smooth election is by slowing down the internet to a nearly unusable speed. This is in addition to blocking Iranians from Facebook, Twitter, and thousands of international news sites. Brooke talks to an Nariman Gharib, an Iranian expatriate who connects with people still in Iran to help them find workarounds to the Iranian “filternet.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: One way the Iranian government has been trying to ensure a smooth election is by slowing down the Internet to a nearly unusable speed. Two minutes to load Gmail, downloads cut off midway through a photo. This is in addition to blocking Iranians from Facebook, Twitter and thousands of international news sites. An Iranian blogger, who goes by the name of Nariman Gharib, left his homeland for London two years ago. From there he connects with people still in Iran to help them find workarounds to the Iranian “Filternet.” I asked him about the impact of the US decision last week to lift sanctions on the sales of communication technologies. He laughed.
NARIMAN GHARIB: The problem is this: When you want to create account on, for example, Apple or Android, you need to enter your credit card number or PayPal, but the problem is that Iranians inside Iran, they haven’t any credit card or PayPal account. [LAUGHS]
And [LAUGHS], and if you want to take a transaction in the Internet, okay, this is sanctioned. You can’t have a direct transaction between Iran and US.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let me see if I have this straight.
NARIMAN GHARIB: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The US government says you can buy Apple products, but you can’t do direct bank transactions.
NARIMAN GHARIB: Yeah, exactly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you need to use a credit card or a PayPal. But you don’t have credit cards or PayPal in Iran. So America says, come and buy Apple products and offers them no means to do it.
NARIMAN GHARIB: Yeah, exactly I guess, that people [LAUGHS] can’t do anything, just anti-virus and software like that. They can now update.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They can get free updates, but anything that costs money –
NARIMAN GHARIB: Yeah –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - they can’t get –
NARIMAN GHARIB: Yeah, exactly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - because America still has sanctioned any direct banking relationship.
NARIMAN GHARIB: [LAUGHS] Yeah, exactly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So no impact at all there. Do you expect a, a repeat of 2009?
NARIMAN GHARIB: I don’t think so because most of activists and most of the journalists now in the prison or outside Iran, and there isn’t leaders to say to people, okay, we’re going to the streets next week or on Monday or Sunday or something.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what will people use the communication tools that you give them for?
NARIMAN GHARIB: Now there is most of the young people use these tools for Facebook and Twitter. The government just think, oh, all of the user inside Iran use their Facebook for photos or something. But it's not like this. They listen to music and you can see most popular Iranian page on Facebook just for fun.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They just want your tools so they can function in a fairly normal way online, and that’s it!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So why are you doing this? You've been forced to flee the country. You’ll probably never be able to go back, at least not for years and years. If most people are using your tools just to gain a measure of privacy, not to foment revolution, why do you bother?
NARIMAN GHARIB: You can see when they come online, they change when they connect to the Internet. When my friends online, they can talk to me like a sister or brother. They relax and something. But if their Internet is disconnect, they think they are alone in the world, you know?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So it’s for – connection for its own sake.
NARIMAN GHARIB: Yeah. I love my people. I want to give them the opportunity, and they can see what’s happening in the US, what’s happening in the Europe and what’s happening in the rest of the world. And they can learn new things.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nariman, thank you very much.
NARIMAN GHARIB: You’re welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We spoke to the Iranian blogger and social media researcher known as Nariman Gharib from London.