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Iran Planning to Make VPNs a Crime

FILE: Illustration of a mobile displaying a Virtual Private Netowrk (VPN) that masks the user's point of origin on the Internet.

Iran is planning to make the sale of virtual private networks (VPNs), used to skirt internet restrictions, a crime, a minister said on Wednesday, amid protests sparked by the death of a young woman refusing to obey the nation's harsh restrictions on women.

State Telecommunications Minister Issa Zarepour said "Selling anti-filtering tools is unauthorized, but unfortunately it has not been criminalized. Efforts are being made to criminalize this issue."

Iranian media reported last year that lawmakers were working on a draft bill that calls for "organising social media" and the banning of VPN software used widely to bypass internet restrictions and blocks imposed on social media platforms,

The text also calls for jailing anyone found guilty of violating the law.

Zarepour cautioned Iranians against using anti-filtering software as they risk causing "vulnerabilities" on the devices. This claim asserts VPNs "facilitate hackers' access," he said.

This claim is seen by observers as "cover" for the move to further impose an Internet "iron curtain" on the Islamic Republic.

In response to his Internet curbing moves, Zarepour was slapped with sanctions for overseeing internet curbs by the European Union on Monday in a foreign ministerial meeting in Luxemburg.

The VPN move comes as a growing number of Iranians, especially young women, are vocally denouncing the nation's clerical regime and the stiff restrictions imposed on females, including and very visibly, the Hijab that covers a woman's hair so it is only seen by her family or husband.

This report contains information obtained from Agence France-Presse