Iran’s Minister of Communications and Technology Reza Taghipour announced the VPN usage would be criminalized in the country. In the past, Iranians had frequently used VPNs to bypass strict content controls to access blocked sites such as Facebook and Gmail. Earlier in the month, Iranians noticed increased difficulties with accessing their VPN accounts after the government ordered that VPNs be disconnected.
Iran’s decision to ban VPNs comes as the most recent measure taken against what the Iranian government claims is a cultural ‘soft war’ between Islamic countries and the West. Taghipour has stated that it is “unfortunate” that the Internet has become the battle ground for this soft war, but that Iran “has a great technical ability to stand against it,” going further to state “We have to and will take any necessary measure to confront this soft war.”
It is unclear, however, whether or not the criminalization of VPNs will have its intended chilling effects. This past summer, Iran declared a ban on satellite dishes, which Iranians have continued to use. Moreover, as Iranian journalist Hadi Nili has pointed out, preventing people from using VPNs will still be difficult, “There will always be new ways to bypass measures by the government,” he says.