The Leading Internet Freedom Technology (LIFT) Initiative: Scaling Up U.S. Leadership to Promote Human Rights

Tom Malinowski: DIPNOTE

On the margins of the 70th high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, I was delighted to share the stage at City University of New York’s Ralph Bunche Institute with seven leading Internet freedom activists and technologists, and with Ambassador Samantha Power, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. My remarks highlighted the increasingly complex challenges human rights defenders and other netizens face on the Internet, and underscored the U.S. government’s commitment to protect and promote human rights online.

In her remarks, Ambassador Power announced that we are expanding our Internet freedom efforts this year by launching the Leading Internet Freedom Technology (LIFT) Initiative. LIFT will enable a diverse of cutting-edge anti-censorship and secure communications technologies to combat the next generation of Internet repression. We plan to invest $10 million in LIFT this year — part of an overall increase in the State Department’s annual funding for Internet freedom to $33 million.

As we heard from presenters at the event, the free and open Internet is being challenged like never before. Many nations are devoting extraordinary technical, political, and financial resources to exert their control over the Internet. Today, more than half the world’s population lives in a country where the Internet is censored or restricted, and repressive regimes are deploying new, sophisticated tactics to further limit Internet freedom. In addition to blocking information, many governments have begun actively manipulating online content, deploying malware to target human rights defenders, and launching digital attacks to silence users. This proliferation of online repression is closing the space for human rights online and creating a more fractured, and dangerous Internet for everyone.

Technology is an integral part of our strategy to keep the Internet open. As other governments seek to fracture the Internet by constructing firewalls and launching cyber-attacks, the LIFT initiative will support a generational leap in technologies to counter Internet repression.  Beyond providing individual users with anti-censorship capabilities, LIFT will support platform-based solutions — like decoy routing — designed to make the Internet itself inherently more resistant to censorship. By embedding censorship-resistance in the protocols and core of the network, we will help make the cost of censoring the Internet prohibitively expensive — both financially and politically — for repressive regimes.

LIFT will also invest in new solutions to mitigate online attacks and improve digital security. This will give human rights defenders and other netizens the tools and holistic support they need to defend against advanced attacks, protect themselves from targeted malware, and communicate securely in closed environments. LIFT seeks to move past the cat-and-mouse game of censors and censored to ensure that millions of individuals living under repressive regimes have secure, reliable access to the global Internet.

The U.S. government has staunchly supported Internet freedom for many years. Since 2008, the State Department has invested more than $125 million in Internet freedom programs. The United States International Strategy on Cyberspace guides our comprehensive support for Internet freedom in the short, medium, and long term by protecting people and organizations at risk, raising their capacity to communicate safely, pushing to reform policies that repress human rights, and improving technologies to safeguard online activities.

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Camilla Wood

UK based Legal Aid Lawyer

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