The Internet Freedom Mandate From Congress

As we noted previously, Congress significantly increased the overall funds designated for Internet freedom. They designated $50,500,000 explicitly for Internet freedom specifying that $25,500,000 be spent by the BBG and $25,000,000 by the Department of State. This is an increase of $16,400,000, up from 2012’s total of $34,100,000.

Until 2011, the BBG’s Internet freedom fund was $1.6 million. For fiscal year 2011, Congress increased that figure by $10 million for a total of $11.6 million. In 2012, it was decreased to $7.5 million and in 2013 increased to $9.1 million. OTF’s slice in 2012, our first year, was $6.8 million and $4.3 million in 2013. We expect to receive $12.75 million in 2014. The Department of State’s budget for Internet freedom has been around $25 million for some time mostly being spent by State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) and USAID.

In addition to more funds, Congress also provided more instruction how the funds should be used. In years past, minimal information was included in appropriations legislation. Largely limited to stating the funds should be used “to expand unrestricted access to information on the Internet.” In 2014 Congress detailed what activities they consider Internet freedom related:

SEC. 7080. (a) Of the funds appropriated under titles I and III of this Act, not less than $50,500,000 shall be made available for programs to promote Internet freedom globally: Provided, That such programs shall be prioritized for countries whose governments restrict freedom of expression on the Internet, and that are important to the national interests of the United States: Provided further, That funds made available pursuant to this section shall be matched, to the maximum extent practicable, by sources other than the United States Government, including from the private sector.

(b) Funds made available pursuant to subsection (a) shall be—

(1) coordinated with other democracy, governance, and broadcasting programs funded by this Act under the headings ‘‘International Broadcasting Operations’’, ‘‘Economic Support Fund’’, ‘‘Democracy Fund’’, and ‘‘Complex Crises Fund’’, and shall be incorporated into country assistance, democracy promotion, and broadcasting strategies, as appropriate;

(2) made available to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for programs to implement the May 2011, International Strategy for Cyberspace and the comprehensive strategy to promote Internet freedom and access to information in Iran, as required by section 414 of Public Law 112–158;

(3) made available to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to provide tools and techniques to access the Internet Web sites of BBG broadcasters that are censored, and to work with such broadcasters to promote and distribute such tools and techniques, including digital security techniques;

(4) made available for programs that support the efforts of civil society to counter the development of repressive Internet-related laws and regulations, including countering threats to Internet freedom at international organizations; to combat violence against bloggers and other users; and to enhance digital security training and capacity building for democracy activists; and

(5) made available for research of key threats to Internet freedom; the continued development of technologies that provide or enhance access to the Internet, including circumvention tools that bypass Internet blocking, filtering, and other censorship techniques used by authoritarian governments; and maintenance of the United States Government’s technological advantage over such censorship techniques: Provided, That the Secretary of State, in consultation with the BBG, shall coordinate any such research and development programs with other relevant United States Government departments and agencies in order to share information, technologies, and best practices, and to assess the effectiveness of such technologies.

You can find the full language here

As a result of this language, OTF has significantly more clarity about Congressional intent for Internet freedom funds and looks forward to ensuring our activities, in coordination with other USG Internet freedom funders, focus on the areas specified.