U.S. State Department Looks to Support “Internet Freedom” Projects

File this under I for Internet Freedom. Or I for Irony. (You decide.)

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs have announced a Joint Request for Statements of Interest (SOI) from organizations interested in submitting proposals for projects that support Internet freedom under the “Governing Justly and Democratically” Foreign Assistance program objective.

This isn’t a formal Request for Proposals, as the bureaus will invite select organizations that submit SOIs to expand on their ideas, submitting full proposals at a later date.

The State Department says it’s interested in projects that “foster freedom of expression and the free flow of information on the Internet and other connection technologies in East Asia, including China and Burma; the Near East, including Iran; Southeast Asia; the South Caucasus; Eurasia, including Russia; Central Asia; Latin America, including Cuba and Venezuela; and Africa. Programming may support activities in Farsi, Chinese, Russian, Burmese, Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, French, and other languages spoken in acutely hostile Internet environments. Concepts may be global in nature, regional or country-specific.”

The projects should support digital activists, according to the announcement, and should include at least one of the following activities:

  • Counter-censorship technology
  • Secure mobile communications
  • Digital safety training
  • Building the technology capacity of digital activists and civil society in hostile Internet environments in the Near East
  • Virtual open Internet centers
  • Emergency funding
  • Internet public policy

The State Department’s interest in these sorts of projects points to its recognition in the importance of Internet technologies in fostering freedoms and expanding democracy – both on and offline.

But the timing of the announcement rings a little hollow as the Obama Administration weighs charging WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange for violation of the Espionage Act for his work, particularly as many elements of WikiLeaks appear on this list of digital activism.

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