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US Internet censorship fight falling short: report

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, February 13, 2011 15:29 EDT
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WASHINGTON — State Department efforts to combat Internet censorship in China and other countries have fallen short and funding for the drive should be shifted to another US agency, a Senate committee report says.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee report sharply criticizes the State Department for being slow in spending money allocated by Congress for Internet Censorship Circumvention Technology (ICCT).

The report, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, recommends that the funding be given instead to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and other US radio and TV networks.

The report is to be released on Tuesday, the same day Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to deliver remarks on Internet freedom at George Washington University here.

Clinton also delivered a major Internet freedom speech in January 2010, but the Senate committee report said there had been “scant follow-up” in the next 12 months.

Congress has given the State Department $50 million for Internet freedom programs since fiscal 2008, the report said, but $30 million remains unspent and little has gone to Internet Censorship Circumvention Technology.

“Such technology should be given a much higher priority by the US government,” it said. “US government support for ICCT development is vital, given the weak private sector market interest in funding such technologies.”

The report suggested the delays in allocating funding were partly because some of the most sophisticated ICCT software — DIT and UltraReach — was developed by two US companies founded by members of the Falungong, which is banned in China, to allow followers to break through the “Great Firewall.”

The report said DIT and UltraReach have been used to circumvent Internet censorship in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Myanmar and Vietnam — “countries which have looked to China for lessons in Internet control or to whom China has directly provided technologies to counter such products.”

It said the delays in allocating funding have “strengthened the hands of those governments, including China’s, who seek to restrict their citizens’ access to information.”

“The State Department is poorly placed to handle this issue due to its reliance on daily bilateral interaction with these very same governments, particularly China,” the report said.

It said BBG stations, which also include Radio Marti, which targets Cuba, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network “must all work on a daily basis to ensure their radio, Internet and television programs are being received by audiences in certain countries that try to block, jam or outlaw these efforts.”

“As such, the BBG, and not the State Department, would appear to be the logical lead agency in the federal government to focus current and future ICCT funding,” the report said.

The report also criticized what it called the “inept handling of an untested technology” — ICCT software called Haystack created by the San Francisco-based Censorship Research Center to assist Iranian democracy activists.

“The Haystack team had not sufficiently tested its software nor allowed it to be submitted for independent cryptological analysis before it released a beta version to unsuspecting Iranians,” the report said.

“In September 2010, just after the beta version was released, an independent team was able to crack the code in six hours and also determined that the Iranian government would be able to manipulate the software to identify any users,” it said. “Once these weaknesses were made public, the Haystack project quickly collapsed.”

The report, which also called for the US government to increase its public diplomacy efforts to counter China’s “vigorous” moves on the outreach front, was prepared at the request of Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved. More »

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VGQPF4SAS4BGFLDBZYCATHIVFY Chris Herz

    The USA would do better to assure affordable and universal access to Internet resources to all of its own. Our people are more deprived of these things than are the peoples of even many second-tier countries. The sense of panic in our country among the corporadoes and their political auxiliaries when it comes to any such suggestions is palpable: None more than these pretend to respect for democracy while spending their whole careers working against it. In official Washington these grifters and crooks know for sure we are ignorant fools for offering money, votes and support for any of them and they work 24/7 to keep things that way.
    Once we mend our own fences, then perhaps it will be time to worry about the problems of others.

  • Anonymous

    The BBG? Those guys are completely incompetent! Has anyone heard of Al Hurra, an Iraqi TV station? No? That’s because no one watches it! (Not even the people running it are watching it) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alhurra#Viewership_and_reception The viewership and criticisms of this station on the wiki page is very detailed. In 2008, Al Hurra boasted a 2% market share. In 2009, they had only a .5%, but spending was up (http://current.com/news/90141964_us-funded-arab-station-alhurra-is-watched-by-0-5-of-middle-east.htm).

    BBG is pissing away money on a grandmaster level. They spend on stations that no one can watch (http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/28253) and they spend on stations that no one wants to watch because it is terrible programming and obvious propaganda. About a third of their budget is wasted on overhead (http://www.radioworld.com/article/108140). I doubt if they have ever had a single good project!

  • Johnny Warbucks

    Oh, the irony!

    When is China going to combat internet censorship in the US? That’s all I want to know.

  • Anonymous

    Could provide free internet to the world for half of this money, no world power actually wants to do this, as much as they like being perceived as warriors for FOI. http://buythissatellite.org/about.php

  • Guest

    “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee report sharply criticizes the State Department for being slow in spending money allocated by Congress for Internet Censorship Circumvention Technology (ICCT).”

    That’s because their efforts are being hijacked by Homeland Security’s ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency) who are currently jack-booting their way across the World ‘seizing’ sites by redirtecting the DNS address to one of their own pro-censorship sites.

    Left-hand battling the right-hand only leads to tangled fingers which cannot get into the wallet to use the available cash effectively and sensibly because the censorship breaching technology developed by the State Dept is exactly what’s needed to breach their friends’ efforts at ICE.

    This is a classic case of “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”.

  • Anonymous

    I so totally dont care if China censors its internet. Its people travel the world. In one small example, a Chinese restaurant owner I know speaks of how shocking the world is to the Chinese when they come to the US and see its not at all like what their government tells them. That word is spread back to China and not long down the road they themselves will be in revolt for freedom. Let china deal with it when it comes

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ESATP6LHWIYFRSRDULTBHXTS3Y Gardoglee

    BBG? Propaganda? I am shocked, shocked to hear that our US government has a specific propaganda ministry. And that they are grossly incompetent to boot? Or not to boot, as should well have happened a long time ago to most of the management of the BBG (aka “The Ghost of Jesse Helms”). The BBG will live on, using Eisenhower era ideas and technology to re-fight the Viet Nam war for the Hearts and Minds of a world which stopped listening decades ago.

    Hollywood, network TV, Google and facebook are the effective US promotion masters. That’s because propaganda is nothing more than a form of advertising, and that is one place where the market does work. BBG doesn’t depend on market share to get paid, just a few paranoid backers in the congress and senate. Giving money to BBG is just another pension to a few tired old cold warriors who haven’t had the good sense to fade away.

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