For now, it appears, Google has returned to the people of Iran. Last week the government blocked sites like Gmail, YouTube, and encrypted search before the weekend, which maybe-not-so coincidentally also marked the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. It's a little murky as to whether Iran's officials prevented access to Google sites due to fear of protesters using them to organize demonstrations or simply to test the waters for how the public would react to the cut-off. Nevertheless, tampering with citizens' access to the Internet is an ominous activity, especially since Iran will be holding parliamentary elections in couple of weeks on March 2. The elections will be the first since the controversial re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.
Officials in Iran haven't been the most helpful about clearing the confusion. According to Reuters, the Ministry of Communications and Technology dismissed charges that Internet service was even disrupted in Iran (innernet gremlins acting up again, guys?). Other members of the government were less reticent about how the Irani government regards the Internet:
"The Internet is an uninvited guest which has entered our country," said Mohammad Reza Aghamiri, a member of the Iranian government's Internet filtering committee, "and because of its numerous problems, severe supervision is required."
He told the daily Arman that Internet search engines like Google were a threat to the country.
"We have never considered Google as appropriate to serve Iranian users, because Google is at the service of the CIA," he said. "It has adopted a vivid hostile stance against us."
There's a third possibile explanation floating around lately, too: Iran is preparing to launch a "national Internet." That means about what you think it means and Iran's already invested about $1 billion constructing a closed-off network "that will allow access to a list of specially selected 'halal' or appropriate websites" while keeping Iranians from the Internet used by the rest of the world.
Could such a closed-off network possibly be launched ahead of next month's elections? At this point it's anybody's guess, but given the Irani government's willingness to disconnect the country's citizens at will it wouldn't surprise me. Keep those Tor servers warm, everybody.