Saturday, April 6, 2013

Internet freedom: $15 million up for grabs

Freedom House rates Internet freedom on 0-to-100 scale
The State Department plans to award up to $15 million for Internet freedom programs in countries where the Internet is restricted.
Grants will range from $500,000 to $2 million each, although individual Internet freedom grants of $1.5 million or more are unusual.
Up to $7 million of the $15 million will focus on programs aimed at:
  • Assisting digital activists in "acutely hostile Internet environments"
  • Enhancing "Internet freedom technology, training, policy and diplomacy."
The remaining $8 million will focus on technology, specifically the "development and support of web and mobile anti-censorship technologies to expand open and uncensored access to information and communications."
Priority will be given to the development of:
  • "High-risk, high-reward" tools used to get around censors and communicate securely.
  • Expansion or improvement of existing Internet freedom tools.
  • Merging or modifying existing technologies "to address specific unsolved or under-solved real-world Internet freedom challenges." These technologies include "alternative network infrastructures."
DRL Acting Assistant Secretary Uzra Zeya 
The State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, or DRL, announced on April 4 that it was requesting statements of interest, or SOI, from organizations interested in proposing Internet freedom projects. (See announcements here and here).
Organizations interested in pitching non-technology projects must submit their SOI by May 20. Groups proposing technology projects have until May 31.
Both non-profit and for-profit organizations are eligible.
State Department officials plan to pick the ideas they like, then they will invite selected organizations to submit full proposals.
Officials promise to keep the SOIs secret, saying:
DRL will only share SOIs for the purpose of consideration for funding and will not share SOIs with anyone outside of the State Department or USAID.
The State Department isn't likely to announce what organizations ultimately submit full proposals and receive awards, so it may be difficult for outsiders - that is, the taxpayers - to know the fate of the $15 million.
The State Department's April 4 announcements do not mention Cuba, but Cuba certainly qualifies as a target country for the Internet freedom programs. The documents state:
...any region or country will be considered.

Internet freedom has grown in such nations as Tunisia, Libya and Indonesia, but it has declined in other countries in 2011 and 2012, according a Sept. 24 report entitled, "Freedom on the Net 2012: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media." The report read:
...restrictions on internet freedom continue to expand across a wide range of countries. Over the past decade, governments have developed a number of effective tools to control the internet. These include limiting connectivity and infrastructure, blocking and filtering content that is critical of the regime, and arresting users who post information that is
deemed undesirable.
The State Department announcements express interest in projects that explore:

  • The effectiveness of anti-censorship and secure communications technologies in the face of threats to Internet freedom; 
  • Efforts to propagate technologies that promote freedom of expression and those that implement Internet restrictions;
  • The impact of digital safety trainings and policy and advocacy efforts; 
  • The effectiveness of U.S. Government-funded Internet freedom programs at responding to, and evolving with, these contexts.

Officials are also interested in:

  • Targeted assistance for high-risk activists through trainings, mentorship, and guided practice approaches; 
  • Efforts to develop and support a global network of digital security trainers; 
  • Support for broad, public health style campaigns to raise general awareness of digital threats and encourage basic principles and practices of “digital hygiene,” including increasing the availability of tools to secure communications more effectively. 
Among the activities the State Department will consider:
  • Civil society capacity building programs targeted to train non-U.S. based organizations on Internet freedom advocacy, contextually designed in response to individual national or regional political and technological environments;
  • Targeted, contextually relevant digital safety training programs focused on a specific group of Internet users at risk, or broader, “public health” style awareness raising programs geared to a specific but general regional audience; and
  • Research efforts designed to study specific legal, technical, political, or social issues that expand Internet freedom awareness and understanding in tangible and original ways, and have a concrete, defined base of Internet freedom users, implementers, and/or policymakers who would benefit from the specific output of the research.
Background on the State Department programs:
In past years, U.S. government-funded Internet freedom programs have contributed to a broad range of activities promoting the exercise of human rights online. Grantees have developed and deployed anti-censorship and secure communications technologies in countries where Internet use is heavily filtered and monitored; conducted digital safety trainings, ranging from tailored sessions for activists, bloggers, and journalists engaged in high-risk activities, to broad awareness and education campaigns reaching many thousands of Internet users; and advanced research and understanding of the nature of threats to Internet freedom around the world, and ways to respond to such threats. 
Despite these efforts, the technologies and practices that support Internet repression, monitoring, and control continue to spread. The need to advance Internet freedom remains great. In addition to continued work on fundamental technologies of anti-censorship and secure communications, detailed and basic training offerings, and real-time monitoring and analysis of Internet threats, new needs have arisen that call for new technologies and new programmatic approaches.

Note: This article was shared with the Center for Democracy in the Americas as part of a six-month collaborative project with non-profit group. See more about our collaboration here.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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