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US Senators Fight Censorship Worldwide

January 27, 2010

Following the attacks on Google attributed to the Chinese government earlier this month, five United States senators are publicly urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her State Department to support organizations that help people living under regimes such as China’s and Iran’s – which “often deny their populations access to Web news outlets and sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter,” according to The New York Times – circumvent restrictions on Internet use.

In a letter written by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and signed by Arlen Specter (D-PA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), and Bob Casey Jr.(D-PA), Mrs. Clinton is asked to quickly spend $45 million that has been earmarked over the last two years to support Internet freedom but has not been spent.

In December, the State Department asked for financing proposals from organizations with technologies that “maximize free expression and the free flow of information and increase access to the Internet.”

But the senators’ letter argues that the guidelines for which organizations may submit a proposal are too restrictive. One criterion for funding is established presence in a country with a demonstrably repressive regime, an issue for many of the most popular web programs, which operate from U.S.-based servers.

Some critics are also asking whether the State Department has avoided spending the earmarked monies to support Internet freedom organizations with ties to Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is suppressed in China, for fear of antagonizing the Chinese government.

“Officials at the State Department have sacrificed the interests of the demonstrators on the streets of Tehran, the interests of Google, and the principle of Internet freedom in closed societies on the altar of not making China go ballistic,” Mike Horowitz, an adviser to the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, a group affiliated with Falun Gong that makes popular restriction-thwarting tools like Freegate, told the Times.

Mrs. Clinton has not yet publicly responded to the senators’ letter or to these critiques.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.