Sec. Clinton faces growing pressure to fight Internet censors in Iran and China

A coalition of pro-democracy groups wrote to Clinton on Monday asking that grants be awarded based on merit and not political biases. They want the grants to go to groups working inside and outside nations such as Iran and China that tightly control information on the Internet.

In a release, they said awarding the grants in a transparent manner based on merit would show that a speech by Clinton last month on Internet freedom was not just political rhetoric, but a serious call for action.

The letter from the groups follows another letter signed by five senators pressing the State Department to issue funds quickly.

A key issue for the senators is that grants should be awarded to groups working outside the borders of authoritarian regimes such as Iran.

The State Department’s request for proposals stipulates that those asking for grants show an “in-country” demonstration. This “ignores the fact that some of the most successful censorship circumvention tools are operated remotely,” the senators said in a letter sent to Clinton in January.

The letter was signed by Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.).

The 2010 appropriations bill for the State Department provided $30 million for counter-censorship programs and technology.

During the protests that followed Iran’s disputed presidential election last year, a number of groups outside Iran worked to ensure that censors in Iran did not prevent the spread of information over Facebook, Twitter and other websites.

The Global Internet Freedom Consortium, one of the groups that signed Monday’s letter, has produced software able to help users break through barriers set up by authoritarian regimes such as China's and Iran's.