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US Lawmakers Expanding Effort For Internet Freedom In 'Oppressive Regimes'

In this archive photo of February 13, 2019, the President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Democrat Eliot Engel (L) talking with his Republican colleague Michael McCaul, during a hearing in Washington.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Monday introduced the Open Technology Fund Authorization Act to help fight social media and news censorship by "oppressive governments" such as Iran, North Korea, China and Russia and to improve Internet freedom globally.

The bipartisan group is sponsoring legislation that would make the non-profit Open Technology Fund (OTF) an independent grantee under the U.S. Agency for Global Media. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, Committee member Michael McCaul, and Representatives John Curtis and Tom Malinowski are leading the effort.

Pointing out that information blocking has long been a hallmark of oppression, lead Republican and Foreign Affair Committee member Michael McCaul said in the digital era, tyrants and dictators around the world seek to further control their citizens by restricting, censoring and conducting surveillance of the Internet. "This has been a growing trend in repressive regimes like China, Iran, and North Korea," he added.

“The U.S. Agency for Global Media has already made significant headway to improve internet freedom globally, and by authorizing the OTF as an independent grantee, this bill will better position the U.S. to help those fighting against this form of tyranny,” McCaul said according to a statement released by the Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday.

The Open Technology Fund is working on ways around government censorship and restriction of the Internet by building "an even taller ladder" when a repressive regime builds a wall to restrict access to it, Engel said.

“As dictators roll out new COVID-19 tracing tools with backdoors to monitor their citizens, OTF will be there to give those who defend democracy the tools to communicate and organize free of snooping eyes,” Representative Malinowski said.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), due to the high censorship of the press in Iran, "it is the citizen-journalists on social networks who are now at the center of the battles for freely-reported news and information and for political change in Iran". This makes the role of free access to the Internet even more significant for Iranians.

According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Iran is among the top ten most censored countries along with Eritrea, North Koreas, Saudi Arabia and China.