WASHINGTON — The United States plans to pump millions of dollars into new technology to break through Internet censorship overseas amid a heightened crackdown on dissent in China, officials said Tuesday.
State Department officials said they would give 19 million dollars to efforts to evade Internet controls in China, Iran and other authoritarian states which block online access to politically sensitive material.
Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state in charge of human rights, said funding would support cutting-edge technology that acts as a “slingshot” — identifying what countries are trying to censor and throwing it back at them.
“We’re responding with new tools. This is a cat-and-mouse game. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cat,” Posner said.
The announcement came shortly after the United States and China wrapped up wide-ranging annual talks in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed exasperation at Beijing’s intensifying clampdown on domestic critics.
China routinely blocks sites that present non-official viewpoints on Tibet’s exiled leader the Dalai Lama, the banned Falungong spiritual movement and the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
More recently, Chinese authorities blocked search results for “Hillary Clinton” after she gave a speech championing Internet freedom and for “Jasmine,” an allusion to pro-democracy uprisings sweeping the Arab world.
“In effect, we’re going to be redirecting information back in that governments have initially blocked,” Posner said.
“This can be done through email or posting it on blogs or RSS feeds or websites that the government hasn’t figured out how to block,” he said.
The funding comes out of $30 million which the US Congress allocated in the current fiscal year for Internet freedom.
The failure until now to spend the money led to accusations that the State Department was too worried about upsetting China. A recent Senate committee report called for another government body to be put in charge of the funds.
The Falungong developed the so-called Global Internet Freedom Consortium, a software to evade China’s Internet firewall that was so effective that Iranians sought it out during 2009 protests against the clerical regime.
Posner said that the State Department would not identify the recipients of funding due partly to “reasons of security.”
Posner said that the State Department was also funding research and training on Internet freedom, with some 5,000 activists already receiving tips on digital safety.