US set to hike aid aimed at Iranians

US set to hike aid aimed at Iranians
US set to hike aid aimed at Iranians

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By Farah Stockman
Boston Globe Staff
July 26, 2009

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is poised to dramatically increase 
funding aimed at helping Iranian activists circumvent government 
controls on the Internet, according to Congressional aides, marking a 
new wave of US support for Web-based dissent at a time when the Iranian 
regime has clamped down on street protests.

The funding, which is set to double from $15 million in 2009 to $30 
million next year for Iran and other countries that block free speech on 
the Internet, puts the US government in an unlikely alliance with 
counterculture computer activists - some of them in the Boston area - 
who have launched spirited volunteer efforts to help Iranian reformers.

=E2=80=9CYou are engaging in cyberwarfare, on the side of the good guys,=E2=80=99=E2=80=99 said 
Rob Faris of Harvard University=E2=80=99s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, 
which received State Department funds in 2007 to study the Internet=E2=80=99s 
impact on democracy and currently has a grant to look into what kinds of 
people are trying to get around government Internet filters.

The new funds, part of a budget proposal that Congress is slated to 
approve, could be a windfall for nonprofit organizations that provide 
Iranians with ways to view websites blocked by the regime, for software 
developers who train dissidents on how to e-mail in ways that cannot be 
traced, and for Iranian activists living outside the country who have 
launched Web-based forums on strategic protests, democracy, and 
human-rights violations.

But the funding increase has raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill, where some 
in Congress question whether the effort is consistent with Obama=E2=80=99s 
stated goals of engaging, rather than antagonizing, the Iranian regime. 
Iran, which has repeatedly accused the United States of trying to 
engineer a revolution inside its borders, cracked down on street 
demonstrators protesting the results of a June 12 election that kept 
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power. The proposal for additional US 
money for Internet activities predated the unrest.


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