recommended reading

State allocates final $28 million for Internet freedom programs

This week, the State Department will tell Congress that it has allocated all of the $50 million appropriated so far for Internet freedom efforts around the world.

With the Internet and social-media websites such as Facebook and Twitter often credited for helping to spark the popular revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, U.S. officials say they are stepping up efforts to keep the Internet open.

"There's no questions that the ability of young activists in Egypt or Tunisia to organize themselves was dependent on not sitting in a coffee shop or hotel somewhere, but using the Internet and having access to each other online," Michael Posner, assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights, and labor, said in an interview with National Journal. He said that a free and open Internet is one of the keys to a functional democracy.

Since 2008, the department has appropriated $50 million to help promote Internet freedom, with $22 million officially spent so far. A senior official with Posner's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor told National Journal that the agency will seek congressional approval this week for its plans to spend the final $28 million, while Congress earmarked another $20 million for Internet freedom in the latest continuing resolution to fund the government.

Although specific projects are rarely made public to prevent compromising the programs or the activists who use them, State Department officials said that their plans include grants to fund the development of technology designed to circumvent firewalls or other government censorship; apps to protect activists through encrypting texts messages, erasing contact information, or other measures; and technical training by third-party groups.

Using U.S. government funds, developers have designed and are testing a cell-phone "panic-button" app that would allow activists to send emergency messages with the push of a button if they are arrested or attacked. The State Department also says that its grants have provided training to more than 5,000 activists around the world.

Although Posner insists that his office is only interested in preserving an open Internet, not pushing an American agenda, some critics say that U.S. government support for Internet activists is inciting crackdowns in countries fearful of foreign meddling.

"When American diplomats call Facebook a tool of democracy promotion, it's safe to assume that the rest of the world believes that America is keen to exploit this tool to its fullest potential rather than just stare at it in awe," writes Evgeny Morozov, who takes on "the dark side of Internet freedom" in his book The Net Delusion.

Where Posner and Morozov agree, however, is that the Internet is simply a tool. People still have to act, and governments and corporations should work together to help them, Posner said.

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

    View
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    View
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    View
  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    View
  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    View
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    View

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.