Want to help bring encrypted messaging to a despotic regime that treats women like shit? Well, now’s your chance.
Signal is currently asking users to help make its end-to-end encrypted messaging service available in Iran. Signal offers what is broadly considered the most secure, privacy-centric communication platform in the business. However, the app was blocked in Iran last January, after seeing increased popularity there. In light of protests currently roiling the country, the company is now appealing to its global user base for help in supporting an ad-hoc network of proxy servers that can support the privacy-protecting service.
“If you are willing and able, please follow the instructions below to set up a proxy server that will enable people in Iran to connect to Signal,” said the company’s new-ish president, Meredith Whittaker, in a blog post published Thursday. “Our hope is that this will help people in Iran start communicating on Signal while we continue to explore additional censorship circumvention techniques that will work there.”
Proxy servers are basically middlemen that get between clients (web users) and their origin servers. Setting up this arrangement allows requests to be forwarded (and sometimes fulfilled) by the proxy, rather than the origin server. Proxies can be used for various reasons, but in this case, they are being leveraged to circumvent the stifling censorship measures put in place by Iran’s government.
You can see why Iranians might want Signal right about now. Protests are currently roiling the country and the nation’s police are violently cracking down. The upheaval is the result of an incident that took place just last week: Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, died in the custody of Iran’s “morality police,” a domestic law enforcement service that regulates the nation’s dress code. Amini was reportedly arrested for wearing “unsuitable attire” after being sighted “improperly” wearing her hijab. Disputed accounts of Amini’s violent death have torn the country asunder: the government claims that the young woman suffered a heart attack and died of “natural causes” while in custody. However, widespread reports claim that she was all but beaten to death by the government’s goons.
“We hope that organizations and individuals will step up to run Signal TLS Proxy servers for Iranian users and help coordinate their distribution,” Whittaker further commented on Signal’s blog. “We’re also continuing to investigate other techniques that are more automated and convenient.”
If you want to help Signal accomplish its goal, the company has provided step-by-step instructions on how to set up and run one of the proxy servers. Signal has also asked users to spread the word and show solidarity with the effort by retweeting #IRanASignalProxy.