Here’s some free advice to the US State Department; trying to keep Twitter or Facebook or other social networking sites alive inside dictatorships is a fine task but have you stopped for a minute and wondered what citizens think when your own government has backed these brutes?
The State Department has been working furiously and mostly behind the scenes to cajole and pressure Arab governments to halt their clampdowns on communications and social media. In Tunisia there seem to have been real results. In Egypt, it’s too soon to tell.
Ever since the State Department intervened during protests by the Iranian Green movement in June 2009, convincing Twitter to postpone maintenance so opposition protestors could communicate, the U.S. government has been ramping up its worldwide effort to set up a network of organizations that could circumvent crackdowns on Internet and cell phone technologies by foreign governments. That effort faced its first two major tests over the last few weeks and the State Department has been working with private companies, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions to activate this network and put it to use in real time.
“Our mission is to provide a lifeline of protection when people get in trouble through a range of support for technology and then support for the activists and the people on the ground,” Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) Michael Posner said in an interview on Friday with The Cable. “I think there will be an increase in contacts on several levels in the coming days and weeks.”
Even before the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt, the State Department was working to drastically increase its activities with the internet freedom organizations, many of them using State Department funding provided through a grant program administered by DRL. This month, State announced it would spend another $30 million on this project.
For Posner, the drive to create an “open platform” for Internet communications is part of the overall drive to protect the universal rights the administration has been trumpeting in recent days and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out in her speech on Internet Freedom.
“What we’re really talking about here is the ability of people to speak freely, to demonstrate peacefully, to associate and assemble in the public square. These are the human rights that are being restricted,” Posner said.