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'Haystack' gives Iranian opposition hope for evading Internet censorship

Haystack, an encryption software custom made to help the Iranian opposition evade official attempts to censor the Internet, is giving some regime opponents hope of organizing and making progress online.

A screenshot of the website for Haystack, an encryption software designed by the San Francisco non-profit Censorship Research Center to help the Iranian opposition circumvent the government's Internet filters.

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Opposition activists in Iran are beginning to deploy a new weapon in the cyber war against the regime that they hope will defeat extensive government efforts to block popular mobilization on the Internet inside Iran.

Called “Haystack” – and carrying the motto “Good luck finding that needle” – an encryption software custom-made for Iran in San Francisco is the first anti-censorship technology to be licensed by the US government for export to Iran.

“There has never been a tool built from the ground up specifically to address the way in which the regime does its Internet filtering,” says Austin Heap, co-creator of the software. “We really hope that Haystack will be a one-to-one match for how the regime implements censorship.”

After disputed presidential elections last June that crowned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a second term, Internet and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook played a crucial role in helping protesters organize weeks of unrest and demonstrations that were often met with violence.

As the opposition Green Movement brought hundreds of thousands of Iranians onto the streets to reverse what they considered a rigged election, multiple crackdowns left scores dead, thousands under arrest, and a trail of charges of abuse and rape in custody.

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