Monday, July 27, 2009

U.S. Senate passes the VOICE Act to combat web censorship in Iran

Last Thursday, the Senate voted unanimously to adopt the Victims of Iranian Censorship (VOICE) Act, which authorizes up to $50 million for projects to help Iranians bypass government attempts to censor communication and expression via the Internet. It was drafted and put forth as part of the National Defense Authorization Act by a bipartisan team consisting of Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Robert Casey (D-PA), and is, in large part, a response to the Iranian government's violent crackdown on the widespread protests that erupted after a disputed presidential election held in Iran on June 12.

We've been blogging about the post-election protests here on CitizenTube as footage of violent clashes between protesters and the police has been streaming into YouTube, captured by citizens on the streets of Tehran.

Since the election, many websites, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, have been blocked in Iran at various times since the election. At YouTube, we've been experiencing only about 10% of our normal traffic from Iranian IP addresses. And reports indicate that the Iranian government has been using information about visitors to these and other websites to track and monitor protesters.

The VOICE Act is meant to help address some of these problems by doing a number of important things:
  • It forces an examination of non-Iranian (especially U.S.) corporations that have provided technology to the Iranian government that was subsequently used to censor voices of dissent and identify individuals who were speaking out against the government.
  • It makes $30 million available to the Broadcasting Board of Governors to do more Farsi language broadcasting in Iran and develop technologies that will help block Iranian government's attempts to block Internet access and data transfer over cellular phone networks.
  • An additional $20 million is set aside for an education program called the "Iranian Electronic Education, Exchange, and Media Fund," which is designed to help Iranians learn how to circumvent blocked websites and share information more freely.
  • And finally, $5 million for Secretary of State Clinton to "document, collect, and disseminate information about human rights in Iran, including abuses of human rights that have taken place since the June 12 Iranian election."

This is a big win in the battle against Internet censorship, and will help ensure that Iranians continue to be able to speak their minds freely and share what's happening inside their country with the rest of the world as they've been doing with great bravery and diligence since June 12.


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