ISPs in Iran, Tunisia also use SmartFilter (which blocks BoingBoing as “nudity”)

February 27, 2006 – 5:07 pm

Snip from a June, 2005 post on the Global Voices blog, about a report issued last year by The OpenNet Initiative and Berkman CenterInternet Filtering in Iran (PDF). Snip from executive summary (PDF):

Iran is also one of a growing number of countries, particularly in the Middle East region, that rely upon commercial software developed by for-profit United States companies to carry out the core of its filtering regime. Iran has recently acknowledged, as our testing confirms, that it uses the commercial filtering package SmartFilter – made by the US-based company, Secure Computing – as the primary technical engine of its filtering system. This commercial software product is configured as part of the Iranian filtering system to block both internationally-hosted sites in English and sites in local languages.

SmartFilter, as with all commercial filtering software packages, is prone to over-blocking, errors, and a near-total lack of transparency. In effect, Iran outsources many of the decisions for what its citizens can access on the Internet to a United States company, which in turn profits from its complicity in such a regime.

In the comments thread on that post, former Secure Computing Public Relations Manager David Burt claims the copies of Smartfilter used by Iran’s government-controlled ISPs were not licensed:

Secure Computing has sold no licenses to any entity in Iran, and any use of Secure’s software by an ISP in Iran has been without Secure Computing’s consent and is in violation of Secure Computing’s End User License Agreement. We have been made aware of ISPs in Iran making illegal and unauthorized attempts to use of our software.

But on Yishay Mor’s blog, Mr. Burt appeared to confirm that Secure Computing sells its censorware products to a government-controlled ISP in Tunisia, and anywhere else that such a transaction would not be prohibited by US law:

We sell to ISPs where the law allows. It’s really up the customer how they use our software.

* BoingBoing banned in UAE, Qatar, elsewhere. Our response to net-censors: Get bent!
* Stick Michelangelo’s “David” on your blog to protest censorware

Image: A “block page” from Iran’s ISP DATAK, from, received when attempting to access a pregnancy information website. “Headers indicate that the ISP is using Cisco’s PIX firewall to filter in conjunction with Smartfilter. Pornography is blocked, as are political sites.” Link

Reader comment: Mongo Nikol says,

Here’s a letter from James S. Tyre, co-founder of the Censorware Project (and long-time EFF ally) sent in ’99 to Senator John McClaine. It seems SmartFilter not only blocks nudity but it also filters out the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Bible, the Koran, and all the works of Shakespeare. Perhaps SmartFilter believes kids should be protected from these works, also?

Reader comment: Peggy says,

A 2002 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that SmartFilter blocks a number of health-related sites. As you might expect, web sites with sex ed, birth control and sexually transmitted disease information were on the block list. It surprised me, though, that SmartFilter blocks the CDC site about diabetes. Of course it isn’t just SmartFilter that blocks these sites – other internet filtering programs such as CyberPatrol and Websense are guilty of this as well. Link.

Reader comment: Moe’s Diner says,

I used to work with an organization associated with a minority religion outside the mainstream big-5 (or big-7)–one of those hundreds of “other” philosophies that never was about social conformity or political success. So, I found out at the time that SmartFilter tends to lump the websites of *all* minority philosophies under the “cult” category. And, of course, most organizations opt-in to block “cults” (maybe it’s part of the SmartFilter’s defualt config?). Anyway, as you can imagine, the world is now a much safer place that people can’t access unpopular philosophical ideas–you know, since, in general, all good ideas have always been popular and embraced by the mainstream.

Reader comment: Christopher Lotito says,

Campaign Against Smartfilter Directly! This page at the Secure Computing website allows you to check the blacklist status of your favorite URLs, then provide recommendations to change their categorization. The company promises to email you eventually and there is even a place to put comments. Since Secure Computing is located in San Jose in the United States… a place some may recall as a bastion of freedom and democracy, it seems appropriate that Secure Computing should enjoy a demonstration of that deomcratic proccess. I hope that all BoingBoing readers will take a couple minutes to cast their vote to have BoingBoing removed from the blacklist using this Secure Computing approved and even preferred method. Good Luck BoingBoing, I’ll be keeping up on this issue and I hope you’ll let me know if there are any other ways that I can help.

Reader comment: “Open Source Sex Ed” blogger, author, podcaster, and Fleshbot contributor Violet Blue says,

I personally really need the “Defeat Censorware” resource you’re providing to get
around stoopid filterware for my livelihood. I’ve often ended
up in places hunting for wi-fi because I need to work, only
to discover that I can’t access my website or or at places like
the local Sony Metreon shopping center — not even the Movable Type blog-editing interfaces. I wonder how many
other journalists and bloggers find themselves in the same fix?

Reader comment: Darin Dykes of says, is an amateur radio site related to news, discussion, and buying and selling of ham radio related gear. While discussions can get quite animated, they don’t merit the “Entertainment” block it received from SmartFilter. And is a domain set up by ham radio operators for ham radio operators. It generally does not allow any content that you couldn’t utilize via amateur radio. SmartFilter blocked the entire domain of thousands of ham radio operator sites and classed it as “Entertainment.” How they got that I don’t know. I work on a USAF base so BoingBoing is no longer accessible.

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