Monday, February 14, 2011
U.S. Policy to Address Internet Freedom
By MARK LANDLER - THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: February 14, 2011
WASHINGTON — Days after Facebook and Twitter added fuel to a revolt in Egypt, the Obama administration plans to announce a new policy on Internet freedom, designed to help people get around barriers in cyberspace while making it harder for autocratic governments to use the same technology to repress dissent.
The State Department’s policy, a year in the making, has been bogged down by fierce debates over which projects it should support, and even more basically, whether to view the Internet primarily as a weapon to topple repressive regimes or as a tool that autocrats can use to root out and crush dissent.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will lay out the policy in a speech on Tuesday, acknowledged the Internet’s dual role in an address a year ago, and administration officials said she would touch on that theme again, noting how social networks were used by both protesters and governments in the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries.
The State Department plans to finance programs like circumvention services, which enable users to evade Internet firewalls, and training for human rights workers on how to secure their e-mail from surveillance or wipe incriminating data from cellphones if they are detained by the police.
Though the policy has been on the drawing board for months, it has new urgency in light of the turmoil in the Arab world, because it will be part of a larger debate over how the United States weighs its alliances with entrenched leaders against the young people inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt.
Administration officials say that the emphasis on a broad array of projects — hotly disputed by some technology experts and human rights activists — reflects their view that technology can be a force that leads to democratic change, but is not a “magic bullet” that brings down repressive regimes.
“People are so enamored of the technology,” said Michael H. Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. “People have a view that technology will make us free. No, people will make us free.”
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