Toeing the Internet Censorship Line

Slate has an article about $30 million marked to combat internet censorship, yet not a single dollar has been spent. Quote:

Yet in the subsequent year and half, none of that money has been spent—not in Libya, not in China, not anywhere. Unfortunately, I am not able to explain why. When asked, an official told me that the department had lacked technical expertise and had been forced to reorganize itself in order to "unify the policy" before issuing a call for proposals (one finally went out this past January; results should be available within a month).

Others see darker motives: Weakness, cowardice, anxiety not to displease the governments that create firewalls, especially the Chinese government, which routinely denounces "Internet freedom" as an anti-Chinese plot. As it happens, the two companies that have written some of the most successful anti-censorship programs, Freegate and UltraReach, were founded by by Chinese exiles associated with Falun Gong, the dissident religious movement.

Although in getting to that quote, I think there is a far more interesting quote to lead off the article.

"We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas."

It’s a pretty nuanced position forming. The United States wants people to have access to information but having access doesn’t mean free reign over bandwidth (a la current net neutrality movements as of late). Although, as it can be noted, access and bandwidth are two different animals; the latter doesn’t matter without the former. But if latter doesn’t support the kind of information exchanges they want to encourage (including, I would guess, the videos shot by regular citizens showing government violence against them; it’s not like video files are exactly small), then what does access matter if there is nothing to support it?

Not that any of this matters since we aren’t spending the money to begin with. But, the way I see this, this feels like listening to someone who is saying “every child deserves to be born” followed by “I don’t want my taxes paying for your kid’s education/welfare/healthcare/other social assistance”. The two notions just don’t seem to mesh very well and neither does advocating for internet access abroad while moving towards restricting bandwidth at home. It’s an imperfect comparison, but it’s the best way I can sum up how it looks to me.

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