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A Risky Business: The Internet, Circumvention and Iran’s Digital Generation

This report was published in conjunction with SecDev

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Some 34 million people use the internet in Iran today. 45% of the population is online, up from 1.5% a decade ago. Iranian authorities have invested heavily in internet expan- sion, recognizing its importance for economic development. At the same time, the gov- ernment fears the internet’s social and political communication potential, and works to maintain strict control over access and content.

Many Iranians reject these strictures by using circumvention technologies to access the information they desire. For these Iranian digerati – mostly youthful, educated and em- ployed – the ability to freely access the internet outweighs the risks of being caught.

Purpose of this study and research methods

This study presents evidence-based research on Iran’s internet environment and on who is using circumvention technology in Iran – and why. Its purpose is to provide the BBC with recommendations for enhancing the ability of their Iranian audiences to access BBC programming online.

The ndings are based on primary and secondary research. Primary research included in- eld participant observation studies, four online surveys (with 3500 complete responses) and four focus groups. The ndings are biased: research participants represent a self-se- lecting sample of actual circumvention tool users. Still, they provide foundational insights on the demand for unfettered internet access in Iran, as well as the demand for circum- vention technologies and the barriers that limit their use.

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