As the streets of Tehran erupted in the days following Mir Hossein Mousavi’s bizarrely lopsided defeat, the regime’s repressive apparatus kicked into full gear. Among its top priorities: shutting down access to the Internet. But, at this critical moment in the Islamic Republic’s history, some of the government’s Internet filters failed. Indeed, the most utopian proponents of the Internet’s liberating powers seemed vindicated–as social-networking sites organized mass demonstrations and YouTube videos documented the brutal truncheons of the basij and the making of martyrs.
When these dissident Iranians chatted with each other and the outside world, they likely had no idea that many of their missives were being guided and guarded by 50 Falun Gong programmers spread out across the United States. These programmers, who almost all have day jobs, have created programs called Freegate and Ultrasurf that allow users to fake out Internet censors. Freegate disguises the browsing of its users, rerouting traffic using proxy servers. To prevent the Iranian authorities from cracking their system, the programmers must constantly switch the servers, a painstaking process.
The Falun Gong has proselytized its software with more fervor than its spiritual practices. It distributes its programs for free through an organization called the Global Internet Freedom Consortium (GIFC), sending a downloadable version of the software in millions of e-mails and instant messages. In July 2008, it introduced a Farsi version of its circumvention tool.