Since it was created in 2006 as the "Global Internet Freedom Taskforce” ("GIFT"), the NetFreedom Taskforce has coordinated State Department policy and outreach concerning Internet freedom. The Taskforce is co-chaired by the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs and the Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs, and is implemented by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) and the Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs (EEB), with participation by the State Department's regional bureaus and Office of the Legal Adviser. DRL, according to the State Department, leads human rights and democratization efforts related to Internet freedom, while EEB directs Internet freedom promotion activities as they relate to international corporate communications, business advocacy, and corporate responsibility issues.
The Taskforce coordinates State Department efforts to (1) monitor Internet freedom in foreign countries and report on findings in the annual State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices; (2) increase Internet access in countries where it is actively restricted or otherwise limited; and (3) respond to limits on or threats to Internet freedom through bilateral diplomacy and multilateral international fora.
Task force activities
The task force also considers foreign policy aspects of Internet freedom, including:
- The use of technology to restrict access to political content and the impact of such censorship efforts on U.S. companies;
- The use of technology to track and repress dissidents; and
- Efforts to modify Internet governance structures in order to restrict the free flow of information.
Secretary Clinton's proposals
The task force was mentioned by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a speech on Internet freedom delivered at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on January 21, 2010, stating:
|“||We are reinvigorating the Global Internet Freedom Task Force as a forum for addressing threats to internet freedom around the world, and urging U.S. media companies to take a proactive role in challenging foreign governments' demands for censorship and surveillance.||”|
- Continue the work of the State Department’s GIFT as it oversees U.S. efforts in more than 40 countries to help individuals circumvent politically motivated censorship by developing new tools and providing the training needed to safely access the Internet;
- Make Internet freedom an issue at the United Nations and the U.N. Human Rights Council in order to enlist world opinion and support for Internet freedom;
- Work with new partners in industry, academia, and non-governmental organizations to establish a standing effort to advance the power of "connection technologies" that will empower citizens and leverage U.S. traditional diplomacy;
- Provide new, competitive grants for ideas and applications that help break down communications barriers, overcome illiteracy, and connect people to servers and information they need;
- Urge and work with U.S. media companies to take a proactive role in challenging foreign governments' demands for censorship and surveillance; and
- Encourage the voluntary work of the communications-oriented, private sector-led Global Network Initiative (GNI). The GNI brings technology companies, nongovernmental organizations, academic experts, and social investment funds together to develop responses and mechanisms to government requests for censorship.
To fund U.S. efforts in support of Internet freedom, Congress in FY2008 appropriated $15 million. Another $5 million was appropriated in FY2009. Finally, in Secretary Clinton's January 21, 2010 speech, she spoke of an additional $15 million for FY2010 that has been allocated from State Department appropriations to a range of programs that, in full or in part, support Internet freedom. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner describes these programs as "not just circumvention. . . . [I]t's a lot about training people. . . . It's some about technology. It's some about encouraging groups that are in danger. It's a lot about diplomacy, too, for us getting out there and being sure that when groups are in trouble, we provide a lifeline."
- Department of State, "Internet Freedom" (full-text).
- Hillary Rodham Clinton, "Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices & Challenges in a Networked World" (Feb. 15, 2011) (http://web.archive.org/web/20110217024633/http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/02/156619.htm full-text]).
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