August 3: BayFF in San Francisco: Iranian Protests And Digital Media

I’m speaking at this event in San Francisco on August 3!

August 3, 2009

The recent protests over the elections in Iran have shown that social media can be a force for good — and a target for misinformation and censorship. How can technologists build tools for freedom, and defend Net users across the world?

Monday August 3rd – 7 pm to 9 pm

Danny O’Brien is EFF’s International Outreach Coordinator. He works to help us collaborate with organizations and individuals fighting for liberties across the world. Danny has documented and fought for digital rights in the UK for over a decade, where he also assisted in building tools of open democracy like Fax Your MP. He founded the award-winning NTK newsletter, has written and presented science and travel shows for the BBC, performed a solo show about the Net in the London’s West End, and once successfully lobbied a cockney London pub to join Richard M. Stallman in a spontaneous demonstration of Bulgarian folk dance.

Cyrus Farivar is a freelance technology journalist, a freelance radio reporter/producer, and is a wanderlust geek who lives in the city of Oakland, California. He regularly reports for National Public Radio, The World (WGBH/PRI/BBC), and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also freelances for The Economist, Foreign Policy, Slate, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, and Wired. He is currently working on a book, The Internet of Elsewhere, about the history and effects of the Internet on different countries around the world, including Senegal, Iran, Estonia and South Korea. It is due out from Rutgers University Press in 2010.

Austin Heap is an entrepreneur and technologist, whose works centers on developing Internet based technologies for establishing rapid transfer of knowledge between people, groups, and organizations. Building on his past work, he is currently working on designing and developing Internet- based technologies that simultaneously optimize users’ networking and personalization within and between online communities and organizations. He holds a B.S. degree from Bentley College.

PariSoma coworking space
1436 Howard (at 10th) in SF

This event is hosted by PariSoMa a coworking space in San Francisco that provides desks, wifi and coffee to independents and startups. Our goal is to work as a platform for communities to foster innovation, collaboration and collective intelligence.

$20 Admission; no one turned away for lack of funds

Seating is limited. RSVP to

Senate passes Victims of Iranian Censorship (VOICE) Act

Late last night, the Senate passed the Victims of Iranian Censorship (VOICE) Act.

Nico links to the presser just co-released by a number of senators, including leads McCain, Liberman and Graham, Casey, Kaufman and others.

Important bits:

• Authorizes $30 million to the Broadcasting Board of Governors to expand Farsi language broadcasting into Iran by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda and the Voice of America’s Persian News Network. The funds may be used to develop additional transmission capability to counter Iranian government efforts to jam radio, satellite, and Internet-based transmissions; establish additional proxy server capability and anti-censorship software to counter efforts to block access to websites in Iran; develop technologies to counter efforts to block SMS text message exchange over cellular phone networks; and hire, on a permanent or short-term basis, additional staff for Radio Farda and the Persian News Network.

• Authorizes $20 million for a new “Iranian Electronic Education, Exchange, and Media Fund,” which will support the development of technologies, including websites, that will aid the ability of the Iranian people to gain access to and share information; counter efforts to block, censor, or monitor the Internet in Iran; and engage in Internet-based education programs and other exchanges with Americans online.

• Requires a report by the President on non-Iranian companies, including corporations with U.S. subsidiaries, that have aided the Iranian government’s Internet censorship efforts, including by providing deep packet inspection technology.

Entire text of the bill, courtesy of THOMAS at the Library of Congress, after the jump:Read more“Senate passes Victims of Iranian Censorship (VOICE) Act”

Haystack wants your USB thumb drives!

For the uninitiated: Haystack is an awesome, new, anti-filtering software that’s custom-designed for Iran. It’s run out of San Francisco run by my new friend and green hat hacker extraordinaire, Austin Heap.

Haystack is moving along quite quickly — heck, they’ve even got a swank new website! — and in addition to donating money, you too can help in a really easy, but meaningful way, too:

If you’ve got a spare USB thumb drive (at least 128MB or greater), send ’em in a plain envelope here:

Austin Heap
PO Box 423060
San Francisco, CA 94142

The Haystack crew will be using these drives to safely get copies of the software inside Iran, to join the small handful of current Haystack users. It’s low-tech, but still pretty effective.

TehranBureau: How Geeks (and Non-Geeks) Can Help Iranians Online

How Geeks (and Non-Geeks) Can Help Iranians Online

By CYRUS FARIVAR in Oakland | 17 July 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] In the past few weeks, I’ve seen a surprising number of my non-Iranian friends utterly captivated by news coming out of Iran. It’s easy to understand why — the power struggle in Iran’s post-election aftermath is dramatic, to say the least.

Indeed, some of the best English-language blogging about Iran has come from non-Iranians, including The New York Times, The Atlantic and The Huffington Post. Further, I’ve seen my techie friends glued to Twitter, waiting for the next drip of information to filter through to them.

But many Iranians and Americans (and Iranian-Americans) alike want to do more than just be passive spectators. Indeed, many have already gotten involved.

Given that foreign media has been kicked out of Iran, the Internet has emerged as a vital channel for news and information coming out of Iran. However, the Iranian government knows this and has slowed the Internet to less than half of its usual speed, and has filtered even more websites than normal.

As a way to counter this censorship, there already is a growing legion of people worldwide who are helping Iranians improve access to the heavily-filtered and significantly slower Internet.

Some have installed a piece of software called Tor on their home computers.

Tor lets its users be anonymous and secure online, and also circumvents the Iranian government’s filtering system. Tor users in Iran require that other Tor users around the world have their computers configured to act as a “relay,” to pass on Iranians’ data and hide it from the prying eyes of the Tehran government. But even setting up a Tor relay requires a little bit of technical knowledge.

Andrew Lewman, executive director of The Tor Project, says that his organization has been seeing around 2,000 new users from Iran each day — about a 10-fold increase since prior to the election.

Other cyber activists mainly in the United States are currently working on a program called Haystack, which its organizers claim is custom-designed to defeat Tehran’s online filtering infrastructure.

However, not everyone is as tech-savvy as these groups.

Many Iran watchers have wondered if there is something more significant than changing their Twitter avatar color to green, or posting “Where is my vote?” signs online — but something that’s doesn’t require crazy hacking skills.

So, here are four meaningful, but non-technical ways to help Iranians online:

Read more“TehranBureau: How Geeks (and Non-Geeks) Can Help Iranians Online”

PBS 5Across: The Importance of Free Speech Online in Iran, China, Kenya

I had the honor of speaking on PBS’ new online program, called 5Across. It’s a program hosted and produced by PBS MediaShift’s Mark Glaser. This conversation was taped in San Francisco on July 6, 2009.

In a crisis, governments will often curtail freedom of the press, censoring or shutting broadcasts and newspapers. But blocking websites, slowing the Internet or cutting off SMS messaging can be harder to do. Stopping the flow of information online can be a difficult task, as the Iranian government has learned over the past few weeks, as protesters have posted images to Flickr, video to YouTube, and running commentaries on blogs and Twitter. While the Iranian government would prefer to operate under a cloud, the Interent has proven to be a key distribution medium for spreading news to the rest of the world.

This month’s 5Across video roundtable focused on free speech online in various countries, from Iran to China to Kenya — and even a mention of the U.S. government’s attempts at curtailing speech online over the years. The discussion gave context to Iranian Internet use, its demographics and the way people there get information via satellite TV from Persian-language foreign news sources such as BBC Persian and Voice of America. Plus, we talked about how China uses psychology in making its millions of Internet users believe they are all being monitored.

Tehran Bureau: Geeks Around the Globe Rally to Help Iranians Online

خدا با ماست / او را هم فیلتر میکنید؟
God is with us / Are you filtering him too?

Geeks Around the Globe Rally to Help Iranians Online

By CYRUS FARIVAR in San Francisco | 8 July 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] In his converted loft apartment in the semi-sketchy-meets-startup SoMa neighborhood, Austin Heap, 25, spends most of his time in front of his computer — a PC tower that he built himself and hacked to run Mac OS X.

Heap didn’t have much knowledge or interest in Iran until very recently. As foreign media began to be kicked out of the country, information coming from online sources became that much more crucial.

“Three weeks ago I was very happy playing Warcraft and I was following the Iran election,” he says. “But it wasn’t until everything escalated there that I got involved.”

On June 15, three days after the election, Heap sprung into action.

On his blog, he published a guide for geeks everywhere to set up proxy servers for Iranian citizens — a technique where Internet traffic gets re-routed through another computer as a way to evade online filters.

“I felt like it was my responsibility to use my skills to help,” he adds.

Proxy servers, which have been in use in Iran for years as Iranians have struggled to get around government filters, are a constant cat-and-mouse game. As the government tracks them down, new ones take their place. Heap helped to create a flood of new ones all at once, which worked for a little while.

Non-Iranian geeks and activists worldwide are offering substantial technical support to help thousands of Iranians get around government Internet filters and to get unfettered access to information online.

And Iranians within Iran are responding. Many of the organizations and companies that make these various software tools have reported a dramatic spike in usage from Iran.

Read more“Tehran Bureau: Geeks Around the Globe Rally to Help Iranians Online”

July 7: Cyrus on PRI’s The World

Dear Friends,

I’ve been informed that my radio piece on Haystack and the Dutch Parliament’s new technological support for Iran is airing today.

It will be available on any of these stations (and their Internet streams):

NYC – 3 pm Eastern – WNYC – 820 AM –
Washington, DC – 8 pm Eastern – WAMU – 88.5 FM –
Los Angeles – 12 pm Pacific – KPCC – 89.3 FM – www.kpcc.opg
Boston – 4 pm Eastern – WGBH – 89.7 FM –
San Francisco – 2 pm Pacific – KQED – 88.5 FM –

You can also find it on The World’s site later in the day and on my site if you miss the broadcast.

Also, don’t forget about The World’s Tech Podcast, hosted by my boss, Clark Boyd. It comes out every Friday.

Lemme know if you hear it!

Update: Audio is here.

Haystack: ‘A new program to provide unfiltered internet access to the people of Iran’

Dare I say it, “green hat” hacker extraordinaire Austin Heap (See SF Chron a few weeks ago) and a group of domestic and foreign techie folks wanting to help Iran have announced the upcoming release of Haystack. Heap writes on his blog that it’s a “new program to provide unfiltered internet access to the people of Iran. A software package for Windows, Mac and Unix systems, called Haystack, will specifically target the Iranian government’s web filtering mechanisms.”

I’ll be reporting on Haystack and broader continued tech efforts to help Iran on tomorrow’s Tuesday’s edition of PRI’s The World.

In a related story, Dutch MPs are getting involved in helping Iran from the tech side.

A motion passed the Dutch House of Representatives on Friday, July 3, calling for the Netherlands (and the EU) to ban the sale and provision of Internet filtering technology to Iran. They have allocated €1 mil of government money for this purpose.

One of the leaders of this motion is Berkeley-born Japanese-Dutch MP Mariko Peters, an MP in the Netherlands’ House of Representatives. She’s with the GroenLinks party. There’s also been support from Han Ten Broeke of the VVD party — an economically conservative party.

Not tech-related, but still really important, is this:

NYT: Leading Clerics Defy Ayatollah on Disputed Iran Election

July 5 2009


CAIRO — An important group of religious leaders in Iran called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate on Saturday, an act of defiance against the country’s supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country’s clerical establishment.

A statement by the group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult.

“This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. “Remember, they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei.”

Read the rest here.

And finally, relating to my recent radio report about Twitter confusion in Iran:

[Doonesbury, July 4 2009 ; via HuffPost]