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Censorship and Collateral Damage

Analyzing the Telegram Ban in Iran

Published

by Simin Kargar and Keith McManamen

In late April 2018, Iran’s Judiciary announced a much anticipated ban on the popular messaging application, Telegram. The filtering order instructed all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Iran and the Telecommunications Ministry to block access to content on the Telegram network. The ban went into effect despite the record breaking popularity of Telegram, which was used by an estimated 40 million Iranians.

Iranian users rushed to apply circumvention tools to stay connected to Telegram despite the concerted efforts of different political bodies to diminish attention to the app. Much of the state’s effort centered on migrating Telegram users to domestically developed alternatives. However, users expressed serious concerns about the security of state-sanctioned applications, and considered them to be facilitating state surveillance.

This research bulletin analyzes the aftermath of the Telegram ban in Iran and presents detailed data on the performance of Psiphon, one of the most widely used circumvention tools among Iranians. The bulletin concludes by reviewing the overarching Internet policies in Iran behind the Telegram ban. In addition, it presents the challenges that arise from the implementation of these policies, both to users and circumvention tool providers, especially as increasingly aggressive network interference becomes the norm.

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Internet Monitor's aim is to evaluate, describe, and summarize the means, mechanisms, and extent of Internet content controls and Internet activity around the world. More