Iran to weed 'moral' crimes from social networks, starting with Facebook

Iran has said it is willing to cooperate with Google and other Internet companies provided they play by its rules

Iran has arrested several Facebook users on charges ranging from insulting religious figures to conducting immoral activities, even as it is said to be talking to Google about setting up operations in the country.

The country's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is planning to monitor online crimes within the next two months on other social networks as well, including Instagram, Viber and WhatsApp, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Tuesday, quoting a statement from the guards.

Iran is ready to cooperate with Google and other Internet companies to allow them to operate in the country, but if they will play by local laws, IRNA reported Monday.

The country has frequently blocked websites that it considers objectionable though people use technologies like virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around the blocks.

The news agency said Nasrollah Jahangard, Iran's deputy minister of telecommunications and information technology, has been quoted by local media as saying that negotiations are going on with Google to establish a version of its servers in Iran. The country was also said to be negotiating with other U.S. and European Internet companies.

The announcement by the IRGC appears to be directed at the Internet companies to give them an idea of what the government expects from them.

The guards claimed they managed to monitor the activities of 8 million Facebook users, under a surveillance project named Spider, and made several arrests on different charges.

In February, the IRGC's Center for the Study of Organized Cyber Crimes said it arrested 12 individuals and summoned another 24, as their Facebook pages "promote a liberal and open-minded culture, weaken the sacred institution of the family, ridicule religious beliefs and values, promote immoral and unethical relationships, and spread private pictures of young women," according to watchdog organization Freedom House.

Iran's Telecommunications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi reportedly said in November that the country would have "smart filtering" within six months to weed out Internet content that is found to be offensive or criminal. In September, Police Chief Brigadier General Esmail Ahmadi Moqaddam said that the use of communications technologies like Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber are "inevitable."

But it is unlikely that some of the large Internet companies will go along with the large-scale filtering proposed by Minister Vaezi.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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