“We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.”
That was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January 2010, making what she called “an important speech on a very important subject." [See it here, and see more here.]
And there was more: “We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship. We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them.”
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Some of the “tools” she mentioned, such as software that enables individuals to evade regime firewalls without detection, were already in use. The money was there, too: Three months earlier, in October 2009, the State Department had received $30 million from Congress specifically to combat Internet censorship. Yet in the subsequent year and half, none of that money was spent — not in Libya, not in China, not anywhere.
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As it also happens, another U.S. government agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, has deployed these two companies’ [anti-censorship] programs with notable success ... The BBG can track its success: At first, it noted an uptick in access in Iran, China and Vietnam (where there are now some 80,000 users). More recently, Ultrareach recorded a 700 percent jump in use in Tunisia between Dec. 17, when a desperate fruit vendor set himself on fire, and Jan. 12, the day President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali officially ended Internet censorship in Tunisia. It tracked a 6,125 percent increase in use of its services in Egypt from Jan. 21 to 27.
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With even a small slice of that $30 million the State Department hasn’t spent, however, BBG engineers reckon they could get free Internet access for 50 million people, every day. And yet — despite explicit requests from Congress, the State Department appears determined not to give it to them ... One part of the U.S. government has anti-censorship technology but no money to expand its use. Another part of the U.S. government has money for anti-censorship technology but hasn’t spent it. The American political system is too dysfunctional, in other words, to create “a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.”
What an odd situation. A government agency that (1) has a mission, (2) has funds to spend on that mission, and (3) has effective tools with which to accomplish that mission, but (4) won't spend the money it has to use the tools it has?
There must be some reason for this odd inactivity. Perhaps we're thinking that activists in totalitarian countries need more in the way of risk management than just a tech-tool? Or did WikiLeaks give us second thoughts about the desirability of "a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas”? Is it that we are reluctant to offend the ChiComs?
And most of all, why can’t my hero @JaredCohen do something about this? Or rather, why can't he "think/do" something? And what exactly has he thought/done so far in that Google think/do tank? I will be disillusioned if he turns out to be the sort of character who is perpetually on the verge of creating the next big thing.