QUESTION: What kind of Internet freedom support has the State Department provided in the Middle East region?
ANSWER: Advancing Internet freedom is a priority for this administration. From 2008 through 2011, the State Department and USAID have spent $76 million on Internet freedom programming. This year, at a time when we are making significant budget cuts in many areas, we anticipate spending $25 million in Internet freedom programming. Through these programs, we provide training and tools to civil society activists, in the Middle East and throughout the world, to enable them to freely and safely exercise their freedoms of expression, association, and assembly on the Internet and via other communication technologies.
Across the Middle East, we have seen that access to technological tools enables people to tell their story to the world when they are otherwise silenced by repressive governments. Our Internet freedom programming is aimed at making sure that voices for peaceful democratic reform in the region can be heard.
Countering increasingly active Internet surveillance and censorship efforts aimed at suppressing individuals’ exercise of their human rights requires a diverse portfolio of tools and training. State Department grants support more advanced technologies, including in Farsi and Arabic. Tools that have received support from the State Department help provide unfettered Internet access for hundreds of thousands of individuals in the Middle East. We also support the development of mobile security software to provide safer ways for activists in repressive societies to communicate, and technologies to enable them to post their own content online and protect against cyber attacks. Recently, State Department grantees have come to the aid of dozens of individuals and organizations in the region that have been victims of hacking or have had their accounts compromised. State has also supported the efforts of organizations that have trained over 7,500 activists worldwide, including many from the Middle East, in cyber-self defense.
In the face of growing repression, we continue to expand these important efforts to advance Internet freedom, in the Middle East and throughout the world.