Deus Ex Machina

While the majority of prayers directed to the man in charge are pleas for protection, blessings and good health for the supplicant and his/her family, there are those who pray for divine retribution – like one really pissed off Michael Jackson fan.

Sometime yesterday, the technologically savvy MJ lover hacked into the Web site of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and asked that God take the controversial politician and the country’s highest ranking religious and political authority Ayatollah Ali Khamenei this year.

“Dear God, In 2009 you took my favorite singer – Michael Jackson, my favorite actress – Farrah Fawcett, my favorite actor – Patrick Swayze, my favorite voice – Neda,” the hacked post reads.

“Please, please, don’t forget my favorite politician – Ahmadinejad and my favorite dictator – Khamenei in the year 2010. Thank you.”

A hacker’s plea for equal treatment.

(The Neda that the hacker references is Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death during protests over Iranian election results last summer was captured on video and became a rallying point for the opposition after it was widely broadcast on the Internet.)

The message didn’t stay up long, either a victim of intense web traffic or actions by the Iranian government, but screen captures of it quickly spread across the blogosphere.

The incident was first reported by San Francisco-based blogger Austin Heap, who is the co-founder of the Censorship Research Center, a non-profit organization whose mission is to “provide anti-censorship education, outreach, and technologies for free to those who need it most.”

To date the CRC’s biggest contribution to free speech is the development of Haystack, a software program designed to “provide unfiltered and undetectable Internet access to the people of Iran” and which “specifically targets the filtering technology being used by the Iranian government.”

According to the project’s Web site, the program is a proxy system that “employs a sophisticated mathematical formula to hide users’ real Internet traffic inside a continuous stream of innocuous-looking web requests.

“In addition to providing anonymity, Haystack uses strong cryptography, ensuring that even if users’ traffic is detected, it cannot be read. Trying to find and decipher our users’ traffic amidst all the other traffic on the web really is like trying to find a needle in the proverbial Haystack.”

The Internet crackdown by the Iranian government is a response to the role sites like Twitter and Facebook played in last year’s protests. Ironically, a surprising ally has helped officials in their efforts to stifle opposition – companies operating in the free market.

Heap points out on the CRC Web site, “Iran purchased equipment from Western companies like Nokia for this censorship, and is rapidly deploying homegrown equivalents over which it can exert more control. Iran’s filtering capabilities allow it to intercept and even change online communications – emails, voice calls, even tweets.”

Additional information about the Censorship Research Center can be found here and info about the Haystack software project is located here.