* Tehran aims to screen out "depraved and immoral" sites
* Move seen as more flexible than earlier censorship
DUBAI May 14 Iran plans to loosen Internet
censorship by introducing "smart filtering" which only keeps out
sites the Islamic government considers immoral, Communications
Minister Mahmoud Vaezi said on Wednesday.
Internet use is high in Iran, partly because many young
Iranians turn to it to bypass an official ban on Western
cultural products, and Tehran occasionally filters popular
websites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Censorship has eased somewhat since Hassan Rouhani was
elected last year on a moderate platform the "smart filter"
initiative seemed to reflect.
"We have signed agreements with three universities and
research institutes to develop smart filtering to block only
depraved and immoral sites, but allowing access to other pages,"
Vaezi said, without naming the organisations involved.
"Smart filtering is used for specific targets only and
presently the project is undergoing experiments," he was quoted
by Mehr news agency as saying to journalists.
The minister did not make clear what would be considered
depraved and immoral, but the terms are frequently used by
Iranian clerics to mean anything from pictures of women in
revealing Western clothing to outright pornography.
But he did brush aside rumours that Tehran would start
filtering the latest teen fad, the WhatsApp Messenger instant
messaging service. "What is being said about this matter is
mainly non-sense - propaganda," he said.
The Mehr report did not mention the latest Internet fad, a
Facebook page where women post pictures of themselves without
their obligatory headscarf.
Like satellite television and music videos in earlier
decades, cyberspace has been a controversial phenomenon in the
Islamic republic, both out of political and moral concerns.
Many in the conservative clerical establishment long opposed
its introduction into Iran and, since its debut, have demanded
Their offensive peaked during a crackdown on freedom of
speech in the wake of mass protests against former president
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection in 2009.
Many bloggers were jailed and at least one person was
sentenced to death for running what was called a "promiscuous"
website. Two years ago, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei set up a supervisory board to monitor Internet access.
(Reporting by Mehrdad Balali; Editing by Tom Heneghan)