The New Republic has published a piece online this week taking the US State Department to task for its seeming lack of urgency in doling out its internet freedom budget — and its choices over which tools that budget has so far been used to fund. Author Max Shulman argues that this reality is at odds with the image Hillary Clinton has portrayed to the world of the US as the benefactor of internet freedom fighters toiling away in repressive regimes. Writes Shulman:
“This is complicated, Clinton finds new ways to say with every speech, but we’re doing all the right things. Official U.S. policy unequivocally favors a “free and open Internet” and opposes repressive censorship regimes worldwide through the best available means.
“But, in reality, this isn’t exactly true. An examination of the State Department’s record of its 18-month-old Internet freedom agenda reveals significant failures, both in overall funding efforts and in the omission of vital tools from its approach to helping activists crack through the layers of censorship imposed by repressive regimes. Before democracy advocates abroad can truly take heart in Clinton’s words, the department needs to admit to past mistakes and adopt a truly comprehensive approach to addressing the issue.”
There has been bitter dispute among technologists and politicians in the US over the wisdom of relying too heavily on circumvention tools to open the internet, particularly in countries where dictators are prone to simply shutting the whole thing off. But Shulman argues that the State Department should be trying everything — “mesh networks and circumvention tools, training for activists and pressure on antidemocratic corporations” — even as it acknowledges no one strategy will solve the problem.
Read the full piece here.