Monitoring Iran from afar

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Cyrus Farivar reports on a group in San Francisco that's monitoring the flow of information coming out of Iran, despite a government crackdown against online activists.

MARCO WERMAN: A State Department spokesman said today Iran has attempted a near total information blockade. But it wasn't total, as we just heard. Here in the U.S., Iran watchers having been poring over videos, blog posts and tweets that have trickled out. Correspondent Cyrus Farivar spent time with one group in San Francisco that's been monitoring the flow.

CYRUS FARIVAR: That's Austin Heap, watching an online feed of Al Jazeera English, one of the few foreign news outlets broadcasting live from Tehran. Heap is an Iran tech activist based in San Francisco. He's the co-creator of Haystack, a soon to be released anti-internet filtering program. It's specifically designed for Iranians trying to get around government censors. Here with Heap is Roozbeh Poumader, an Iranian who has been living in Silicon Valley for two years. Poumader provides some color commentary to the news coming in online including today's speech by President Admedinajad.

ROOZBEH POUMADER: The interesting thing here again is that you do not hear the crowd. So they're intentionally trying to make sure the crowd is not heard. As you see, there is usually cheers or something, slogans, something. The crowd is not heard. That's intentional because there is some slogans being shouted around the place.

FARIVAR: Heap and Poumader are doing more than just watching live videos. Heap is monitoring technical details about the workings of the internet inside Iran. He says that from what he's seeing, it's clear the Iranian government is using very sophisticated tools to discourage Iranians from getting online.

AUSTIN HEAP: Basically in the past 24 hours, you've seen 88% packet loss. Once the graph loads, you'll see that it just occurs at about, you said what, 2:30 p.m., yesterday. It just goes from normal, normal, normal and spikes all the way up.

FARIVAR: Packet loss is when data going from one computer to another go missing en route. You generally see packet loss with networks that are too slow for what people are trying to use them for. The government in Tehran has made the network very slow this week in advance of the Islamic Republic's anniversary. Again, Roozbeh Poumader.

POUMADER: The result of that is going to discourage people to try to connect. It works and it doesn't. It works and doesn't. It's totally frustrating and you really don't know what to do about that. So I think it somehow matches what you were saying about the statistics.

FARIVAR: Still, some videos purportedly from Tehran manage to leak out onto YouTube. Poumader first spotted some links around 2:00 a.m. Pacific Time.

POUMADER: Diktator, diktator. No, no, referandums.

MALE VOICE 1: Thirty years ago, April 1, 1979 there was called the Islamic Republic Day. There was a referendum if you want to actually switch the government and Islamic Republic. That was voted for with 98.2% of the votes of people.

FARIVAR: In other words, at least some protestors are calling for a similar type of referendum on the current Islamic Republic. Opposition protestors have been using 1979 revolutionary songs and slogans against the current regime. As the early morning wears on, Heap says it's clear that Tehran's tactics have become increasingly effective.

HEAP: It just seemed to bring everything to a halt. I mean there was really not a lot of information getting out. There were more and more reports that various things were being blocked or connections were being interrupted and seeing them shut down. The network prior to the event, that's all new.

FARIVAR: That just means that tech activists like Austin Heap will have to work that much harder to make sure that their tools are also effective. Heap is still awaiting clearance from the U.S. State Department to be able to export his anti-filtering tool to Iran. For The World, I'm Cyrus Farivar in San Francisco.