Sen. Kaufman, others seek more efforts to get around Iran's Web censorship

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a symbolic message to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) on Tuesday, urging its members to support "Internet censorship circumvention measures" in Iran.

Lawmakers on the committee unanimously approved the "sense of the Congress" amendment, pitched by Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), as part of this year's State Department budget. The effort arrives as lawmakers are growing increasingly concerned by Iran's practice of detaining dissident bloggers and others who use to Web to further the state's burgeoning opposition movement.

The measure that won committee approval on Tuesday has no force of law, but it nonetheless petitions the BBG to "expand international broadcasting in Iran," while promoting "means which provide for the dissemination of accurate and independent information... through radio, television, Internet, mobile devices and other forms of connective technology."

Nevertheless, it is not exactly a new clarion call to the Board, commissioned in 1976, and its foremost enterprise, Voice of America.

VOA has long tried to broadcast into Iran, albeit to no avail. Officials in Tehran have recently jammed the station's signal, primarily out of fear that U.S.-based broadcasting would only intensify the standoff between the state government and the election protesters who saw the return of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as illegitimate.

While VOA has still worked extensively to overcome Iranian censorship, Kaufman, one of the leaders of the Senate's Global Internet Freedom Caucus, has pushed U.S. officials to do more. He and others, including caucus co-founder Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kans.), have recently called for an expansion of the Iran VOICE Act, a 2009 law that "authorized funds for the development of technologies to help the Iranian people evade Internet restrictions," according to the Kansas Republican. 

Some of those new programs have also been incorporated into the Senate version of the State Department's budget, according to Kaufman's office. Among them is a provision that "specifically supports the development of Internet censorship circumvention tools and technology," he said.

(This post was updated at 11:57 p.m. to clarify the year BBG was established)