Up to $30 million for Internet freedom projects in Cuba, other nations

The State Department plans to spend up to $30 million for Internet freedom projects in Cuba and other nations.
In a Jan. 11 notice (download PDF), the agency solicited project ideas from U.S. organizations interested in carrying out Internet freedom projects in Cuba and other nations. Feb. 7 was the deadline.
The State Department has not named – and likely will not announce – the organizations that will carry out the projects. The agency said it would solicit ideas, pick the best projects, then ask the organizations to submit formal proposals.
Grants of $500,000 to $8 million each are up for grabs. The awards are expected to total about $30 million. The money is coming from the federal government’s fiscal 2010 budget, not the 2011 budget.
U.S. non-profit organizations, universities and research organizations are eligible to take part. The State Department asks that they have experience working in “acutely hostile Internet environments.”
Private, for-profit contractors – such as Development Alternatives Inc., the company that hired Alan Gross, the American aid worker jailed in Cuba – were not invited to submit ideas.
Targeted countries and regions include:

  • East Asia, including China and Burma
  • The Near East, including Iran
  • Southeast Asia; the South Caucasus; Eurasia, including Russia; Central Asia
  • Latin America, including Cuba and Venezuela
  • Africa

Among the State Department’s goals: To boost “support for digital activists and civil society organizations in exercising their right to freedom of expression and the free flow of information…”
The agency said proposed projects supporting “digital activists” should include one or more of the following:

  • Counter-censorship Technology: Development and support of web-based circumvention technology to enable users in closed societies to get around firewalls and filters in acutely hostile Internet environments. DRL (The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor) and NEA (Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs) will consider projects that support the deployment of individual technologies in specific environments, as well as projects that identify a lead organization to provide sub-grant and contractual support to non-profit organizations and for-profit companies that develop and maintain circumvention technologies….
  • Secure Mobile Communications: Development of technologies, techniques, and training to enhance the security of mobile communications. Projects may include components to 1) increase user privacy and security, 2) enhance secure communications, networking, and data storage among advocacy groups, and 3) provide increased access to the uncensored Internet via mobile devices.
  • Digital Safety Training: Development of a curriculum and training program to build a network of digital safety instructors to deliver trainings in multiple languages and regions where digital activists and civil society organizations are under threat. Proposed projects should include curriculum and training components to develop a network of instructors on digital safety, as well as a proposed schedule of trainings on digital safety targeting civil society organizations and individuals in acutely hostile Internet environments in the regions and languages listed above.
  • Building the Technology Capacity of Digital Activists and Civil Society in Hostile Internet Environments in the Near East: Training on and access to communication platforms to share electronic information securely; training for activists, bloggers, citizen journalists, and civil society organizations to allow them to safely and anonymously participate in online forums; and promotion of peer-to-peer data sharing between mobile devices.
  • Virtual Open Internet Centers: Establishment of country- or region-specific centers that follow online dialogue and culture in hostile Internet environments; identify and archive censored content and creatively reintroduce content and counter-censorship tools into those online environments. Programs should facilitate network-building and support for online civil society, human rights and journalism communities. Competitive proposals will include centers focused on two or more of the following languages: Farsi, Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Russian, Spanish, and Burmese, in addition to languages of other countries with hostile Internet environments.
  • Emergency funding: Establishment of an emergency fund for netizens under threat because of their web-based activism. The fund would provide funding to cover costs associated with living expenses or legal fees, in addition to a rapid-response fund to provide short-term funding for civil society organizations that have been targeted by severe hacking or cyber intrusion incidents (such as Distributed Denial of Service attacks) to keep their online operations up and running.
  • Internet Public Policy: Support for projects focused on media law reform in countries where changing legal and regulatory frameworks for the Internet have the potential to create acutely hostile Internet environments. Projects should include outreach to both civil society and the business community.

As part of the same request for statements of interest, the State Department is also accepting proposals from organizations that would conduct projects to evaluate “existing U.S. Government funded Internet freedom programs” and “compile, publish, and distribute an expanded annual study of Internet freedom around the world for five years. Competitive proposals will identify sources of additional funding support for the study beyond U.S. Government funding.”

The push for funding beyond tax dollars could be a part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pledge to do a better job using civilian power, a goal cited in the agency’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR.

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