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Derived From: Congressional Research Service, Promoting Global Internet Freedom: Policy and Technology (Oct. 2013)
The State Department works to “protect and defend a free and open Internet” as an element of its policy supporting universal rights of freedom of expression and the free flow of information. It supports the following key initiatives to advance Internet freedom as an objective of U.S. foreign policy
- Continue the work of the State Department’s NetFreedom Task Force (previously called the Global Internet Freedom Task Force (GIFT)). The Task Force oversees U.S. efforts in more than 40 countries to help individuals circumvent politically motivated censorship by developing new to ols and providing the training needed to safely access the Internet;
- Make Internet freedom an issue at the United Nations and the U.N. Human Rights Council in order to enlist world opinion and support for Internet Freedom;
- Work with new partners in industry, academia, and non-governmental organizations to establish a standing effort to advance the power of “connection technologies” that will empower citizens and leverage U.S. traditional diplomacy;
- Provide new, competitive grants for ideas and applications that help break down communications barriers, overcome illiteracy, and connect people to servers and information they need;
- Urge and work with U.S. media companies to take a proactive role in challenging foreign governments’ demands for censorship and surveillance; and
- Encourage the voluntary work of the communications-oriented, private sector-led Global Network Initiative (GNI). The GNI brings technology companies, nongovernmental organizations, academic experts, and social investment funds together to develop responses and mechanisms to government requests for censorship.
Commentators have expressed concerns that there could be serious negative consequences for U.S. and foreign companies, and U.S. or foreign nationals working or living in countries with repressive regimes, if they follow the expanded U.S. policy supporting Internet freedom. These commentators point out that repressive governme nts could punish or make an example of an individual or company for not following the di ctates of that country. This could include harassment, lifting of business licenses, confiscation of assets, or imprisonment. Observers also question what powers the United States may have to respond to such actions, beyond expressing displeasure through official demarches and public statements or through negotiations.
The NetFreedom Task Force
The Task Force is the State Department’s policy-coordinating and outreach body for Internet freedom. The members address Internet freedom issues by drawing on the Department’s multidisciplinary expertise in international communications policy, human rights, democratization, business advocacy, corporate social responsibility, and relevant countries and regions. The Task Force is co-chaired by the Under Secretaries of State for Democracy and Global Affairs and for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs and draws on the State Department’s multidisciplinary expertise in its regional and functional bureaus to work on issues such as international communications, human rights, democratization, business advocacy and corporate social responsibility, and country specific concerns. The Task Force supports Internet freedom by
- monitoring Internet freedom and reporting in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices the quality of Internet freedom in each country around the world;
- responding in both bilateral and international fora to support Internet freedom; and
- expanding access to the Internet with greater technical and financial support for increasing availability of the Internet in the developing world.
Freedom Online Coalition
The Freedom Online Coalition is a group of governments committed to collaborating to advance Internet freedom. The Coalition provides a forum for governments to coordinate efforts and work with civil society and the private sector to suppor t the ability of individuals to exercise their human rights and freedoms online. Eighteen governments are active in the coalition, including Austria, Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Fi nland, France, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Latvia, the Republic of Maldives, Mexico, Mongolia, The Netherlands, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Sweden.
Digital Defenders Partnership
The Digital Defenders Partnership, a project of the Freedom Online Coalition, is a collaboration among government donors to provide emergency support for Internet users who are under threat for peacefully exercising their rights through new technologies. Together, the United States and other Coalition countries have dedicated more than 2.5 million Euros to this initiative. The U.S. contribution to this initiative builds on the State Department’s and USAID’s investment of more than $100 million in Internet freedom programming since 2008.
The Partnership has a broad and global scope and awards grants on a flexible basis. Activities from all over the world are eligible for funding as long as they fit the goal of the fund. The Partnership may support activities such as:
- Establishing new internet connections when existing connections have been cut off or are being restricted;
- Personal protection for bloggers and digital activists;
- Development of tools needed to respond adequately to emergencies;
- Development of decentralised, mobile internet applications that can link computers as an independent network (mesh networks);
- Supporting digital activists with secure hosting and DDOS mitigation; and
- Emergency response capacity building.
The State Department’s International Strategy for Cyberspace
In May 2011, the State Department released, “International Strategy for Cyberspace: Prosperity, Security, and Openness in a Networked World.” This report contains a section called “Internet Freedom: Fundamental Freedoms and Privacy,” which sets out a four-pronged strategy to help secure fundamental freedoms and privacy in cyberspace.
Support civil society actors in achieving reliable, secure, and safe platforms for freedoms of expression and association
The State Department supports individual use of digital media to express opinions, share information, monitor elections, expose corruption, and organize social and political movements, and denounce those who harass, unfairly arrest, threaten, or commit violent acts against the people who use these technologies. The department believes that the same protections must apply to ISPs and other providers of connectivity, “who too often fall victim to legal regimes of intermediary liability that pass the role of cen soring legitimate speech down to companies.”
Collaborate with civil society and nongovernment organizations to establish safeguards protecting their Internet activity from unlawful digital intrusions
The State Department will promote cybersecurity among civil society and nongovernmental organizations to help ensure that freedoms of speech and association are more widely enjoyed in the digital age.Cybersecurity is particularly important for activists, advocates, and journalists on the front lines who may express unpopular ideas and opinions, and who are frequently the victims of disruptions and intrusions into their email accounts, websites, mobile phones, and data systems. The United States supports efforts to empower these users to protect themselves, to help ensure their ability to exercise their free expression and association rights on the new technologies of the 21 st century.
Encourage international cooperation for effective commercial data privacy protections
The State Department believes that protecting individual privacy is essential to maintaining the trust that sustains economic and social uses of the Internet.The United States has a robust record of en forcement of its privacy laws, as well as encouraging multi-stakeholder policy development We are continuing to strengthen the U.S. commercial data privacy framework to keep pace with the rapid changes presented by networked technologies We recognize the role of applying general privacy principles in the commercial context while maintaining the flexibility necessary for innovation. The United States will work toward building mutual recognition of laws that achieve the same objectives and enforcement cooperation to protect privacy and promote innovation.
Ensure the end-to-end interoperability of an Internet accessible to all
The final prong of the strategy is that users should have confidence that the information they send over the Internet will be received as it was intended, anywhere in the world, and that under normal circumstances, data will flow across borders without regard for its national origin or destination.Ensuring the integrity of information as it flows over the Internet gives users confidence in the network and keeps the Internet open as a reliable platform for innovation that drives growth in the global economy and encourages the exchange of ideas among people around the world. The United States will continue to make clear the benefits of an Internet that is global in nature, while opposing efforts to splinter this network into national intranets that deprive individuals of content from abroad.