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Senators form Internet freedom caucus

Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) speaks at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota September 4, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Segar

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several senators have formed a caucus to promote online freedom in Iran, China and other countries as the Obama administration pushes for greater access to an unfettered Internet.

Ted Kaufman, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sam Brownback, a Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, will co-chair the Senate Global Internet Freedom Caucus, a Kaufman aide said on Monday.

The caucus, which also will include Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut, and Democrats Dick Durbin and Bob Casey, plans to discuss its mission at a briefing on Wednesday.

Republicans John McCain and Mike Johanns have also joined the group.

The Senate action comes as speculation swirls that Google Inc will soon announce a decision to pull out of China, or at least shut down its Chinese search engine.

Google has not formally unveiled any such plans.

Last year Kaufman, Brownback and two others wrote legislation aimed at authorizing funds for the development of technologies to help people in Iran to circumvent Internet restrictions.

The move also comes two weeks after the Treasury Department said it will allow U.S. technology companies to export chat and social media software to Iran and other countries with the hope it will help their citizens communicate with the outside world.

Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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