Administration pumps $25 million into Internet freedom

Steve Henn Feb 15, 2011
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Administration pumps $25 million into Internet freedom

Steve Henn Feb 15, 2011
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Kai Ryssdal: Hillary Clinton has 62,000 or so followers on Twitter. Had you been following the Secretary of State’s feed today, you’d have gotten the skinny on the Obama Administration’s new plan for Internet freedom.

Clinton gave a big speech in Washington this morning, in which she announced the State Department’s going to start spending real cash to help online activists break free from government censors and online surveillance. Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports.


Steve Henn: Clinton said the State Department would spend $25 million this year helping human rights activists around the globe evade Internet firewalls, defeat government censors and avoid online surveillance. The program could even teach activists how to purge their cell phones of sensitive data if they’re being taken into custody.

Hillary Clinton: We are taking a venture capital-style approach. Supporting a portfolio of technologies, tools and training.

The money for this has been sitting around at State for more than a year. Recent events in the Middle East and Egypt may have helped move it out the door.

Many activists, though, are frustrated the State Department’s not spending all this money attacking Internet firewalls. The barriers that censor information flowing into countries like Iran and China. Clinton, though, argued there is no magic app for Internet freedom.

Clinton: We have our ear to the ground, talking to digital activists about where they need help and our diversified approach means we are able to adapt to the range of threats that they face.

Timothy Karr: I think that that’s exactly right; you do need a broad-based approach.

Timothy Karr is at Save the Internet Coalition. He welcomes the State Department’s cash but he doesn’t think this will be enough. And the west may be fighting itself. Karr says many U.S. and western firms are selling powerful surveillance technology to oppressive regimes.

Karr: That, in the wrong hands, can be used to crack down against these sorts of democracy movements worldwide.

Karr says if the State Department is serious about Internet freedom, it should take a long hard look at these deals.

In Silicon Valley, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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