The US Senate voted unanimously to adopt bipartisan legislation designed to help strengthen the ability of the Iranian people get access to news and information and overcome the electronic censorship and monitoring efforts of the Iranian regime. Included is $30 million to boost radio broadcasts into Iran.
The Victims of Iranian Censorship (VOICE) Act was introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Robert Casey (D-PA) as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Among the key features of the VOICE Act:
1) Authorizes $30 million to the Broadcasting Board of Governors to expand Farsi language broadcasting into Iran by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda and the Voice of America’s Persian News Network. The funds may be used to develop additional transmission capability to counter Iranian government efforts to jam radio, satellite, and Internet-based transmissions; establish additional proxy server capability and anti-censorship software to counter efforts to block access to websites in Iran; develop technologies to counter efforts to block SMS text message exchange over cellular phone networks; and hire, on a permanent or short-term basis, additional staff for Radio Farda and the Persian News Network.
2) Authorizes $20 million for a new “Iranian Electronic Education, Exchange, and Media Fund,” which will support the development of technologies, including websites, that will aid the ability of the Iranian people to gain access to and share information; counter efforts to block, censor, or monitor the Internet in Iran; and engage in Internet-based education programs and other exchanges with Americans online.
3) Requires a report by the President on non-Iranian companies, including corporations with US subsidiaries, that have aided the Iranian government’s Internet censorship efforts, including by providing deep packet inspection technology.
4) Authorizes $5 million for the Secretary of State to document, collect, and dissemination information about human rights in Iran, including abuses of human rights that have taken place since the June 12 Iranian election.
“The world has been astonished and inspired by the courage of millions of Iranians pressing their regime for nothing more than their inalienable rights. The Iranian government has taken numerous steps to stop these citizens from communicating with each other and with the outside world. As this cruel regime works to close off Iranian society, the VOICE Act, by providing assistance for broadcasting and new internet and communications technologies, will help to open it up,” said Senator McCain.
“In the wake of the June 12 election in Iran, we saw powerful proof of how technology can empower millions of ordinary people in the face of a repressive regime. The VOICE Act will help the Iranian people stay one step ahead of their regime, in getting access to information and safely exercising freedom of speech, assembly, and expression online,” said Senator Lieberman.
“While the people of Iran enthusiastically participated in the June 12 elections, it is painfully clear that the long road to democracy does not end there, as the government has infringed on the universal principles of freedom of expression and press. Our bill supports the Iranian people as they take steps to peacefully express their opinions and aspirations and seek access to news and means of communication, especially over the Internet.,” said Senator Kaufman.
“Now is the time to come to the aid of the Iranian people,” said Senator Graham. “We must deny the regime the tools they desperately need to continue repressing their own people. Our nation has a long history of providing assistance to those who wish to live free. During the Cold War, our efforts made a substantial difference and I believe we can have the same effect today as the Iranian people work to replace a repressive theocracy,” he added.
“The United States has no quarrel with the Iranian people. We share their aspirations for greater access to all information so that they can make their own judgments free of censorship and repression. Passage of this amendment puts the U.S. Senate on record in favor of strengthening those fundamental freedoms all Iranians deserve, no matter who their government is,” said Senator Casey.