Crash Diet: Text-Only Browsers as Tonic for Iranian Internet Throttling

For years, the Iranian government has had to deal with the pesky problem of citizens trying to use the Internet to access information from the outside world. The powers that be usually go about solving this problem in a hamfisted way, banning huge swaths of the internet or shutting down access entirely. But unsophisticated filters, that block searches as basic as "woman," can and have been defeated by Iranians employing both proxy sites and anti-filtering software (interesting side note, one such package was authored by the Falun Gong.)

But the issue recently has become acute due to outcry over the latest "results" for the "election" of the next Iranian president, and the censors (like the Borg they are) have adapted. Now, the WSJ reports that the government appears to be "allowing the Internet to operate, albeit at a slower speed, while using a more centralized approach to blocking specific Web sites." This cripple-not-kill approach has the advantage of allowing the government to "say it didn't disconnect the Internet, but the reality is you can't really use it." Throttling the Internet seems like an ideal way of stifling use without dirtying your hands.

A browser developed for web-developers and rural users might defeat this attempted manipulation. Text-only browsers like Lynx or WannaBe strip almost all graphical information/frames from a site and thus turbo-charge browsing. These browsers essentially transmute webpages to their early 90's incarnations and allow dial-up users to surf at cable speeds. 

This approach may not be new, but just to be on the safe side, it would be awesome if we could help bring these browsers (there are many ports of these two and many more besides) to the Iranian people and deny the regime a tool for covert oppression.

You can follow the protests and happenings in Iran's capital on Twitter at #tehran and the election fallout generally at #iran #iranelection #freeiran. 

(Andrew Moshirnia is a rising second-year law student at Harvard Law School and a CMLP legal intern.)

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