U.S. Foreign Aid Goes Viral

State Department to announce $28 million in grants for Internet activists

The U.S. State Department is set to announce $28 million in grants to help Internet activists in countries where governments have blocked social networking sites or used those sites to track and arrest activists, Bloomberg reported Wednesday morning.

Services created by the program include a “panic button” for mobile phones, which can be used to erase data when an activist is arrested, and a program that keeps websites running even during government attacks.

At a speech on April 12, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We will stand with those who exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly in a peaceful way, whether in person, in print, or in pixels on the Internet.” According to Bloomberg, the program has already produced software that is being used in Iran and Syria.

Republicans have criticized the program, arguing that the U.S. should focus exclusively on helping activists bypass government firewalls, especially in China. Last week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to cut the State Department's budget for these activities for the year by a third, to $20 million this year.