Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
December 28, 2006
Global Internet Freedom Task Force (GIFT) Strategy: A Blueprint for Action
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice established the Global Internet Freedom Task Force (GIFT) on February 14, 2006, as an internal State Department coordination group to address challenges to freedom of expression and the free flow of information on the Internet. The core aims of the GIFT are to maximize freedom of expression and the free flow of information and ideas, to minimize the success of repressive regimes in censoring and silencing legitimate debate, and to promote access to information and ideas over the Internet. We refer to such freedom of expression on the Internet as "Internet freedom." Since its launch in February 2006, the Task Force has developed a robust global Internet strategy that aims to monitor and respond to threats to Internet freedom and to advance the frontiers of Internet freedom by expanding access to the Internet. In executing this strategy, the State Department is coordinating its efforts with other U.S. government agencies and the National Security and National Economic Councils.
The GIFT Strategy is organized around three priorities:
- MONITORING Internet freedom in countries around the world.
- Spotlighting abuses of Internet freedom: We will expand monitoring of abuses and reporting on freedom of expression and the free flow of information on the Internet in our annual human rights report.
- Interim monitoring: Embassies will increase interim reporting of incidents related to Internet freedom so that we can react promptly as problems arise.
- RESPONDING to challenges to Internet freedom.
- Protesting abuses and raising awareness: When we become aware of serious incidents of Internet repression, we will express our concern promptly and directly to the foreign government involved.
- Sustained persuasion in meetings with foreign officials: We are committed to pressing the message on Internet freedom in official dialogues with other countries, especially those in which Internet freedom is threatened.
- Coordinating with international partners: We will work with like-minded governments to promote Internet freedom and to press other governments to live up to their existing international commitments regarding freedom of expression and the free flow of information and ideas.
- Maintaining and expanding Internet freedom commitments in multilateral organizations: We will work to ensure existing international commitments to the free flow of information and freedom of expression are upheld and replicated in appropriate international fora.
- Work with stakeholders: We stand ready to engage appropriately with the technology industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other stakeholders in a process aimed at developing shared principles to guide private sector activities in restrictive economies.
- ADVANCING Internet freedom by expanding access to the Internet.
- Expanding access in developing countries: Through multiple U.S. government programs (including USAID projects and The Telecommunications Leadership Program) and public-private partnerships (The Digital Freedom Initiative), the United States Government promotes expanded Internet access and the availability of information and communication technologies in developing countries. Since 2004 the U.S. government has spent over $250 million on projects that include providing telecommunications infrastructure, Internet access, computer hardware, and support for regulatory reform in order to ensure sustainable infrastructure development. These projects also include the design of websites and databases and training on information and communication technologies (ICTs).
- Empowering users: Where appropriate, the U.S. Government will support the provision of unfiltered information to people living under conditions of censorship.
- Grant Funds: The State Department's Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor announced a $500,000 grant program for innovative proposals and cutting-edge approaches to combat Internet censorship in countries seeking to restrict basic human rights, including freedom of expression.
Freedom of Expression is a Universal Right
The right to freedom of expression is provided for by both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This right includes, with limited exceptions, the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers. The international human rights framework provided by these instruments applies to communication on the Internet just as it applies to other forms of communication.
While international law allows for limited restrictions on speech in narrowly circumscribed circumstances for legitimate government purposes such as protection of "national security" or "public order," repressive regimes misuse such exceptions as a pretext to censor speech about democracy and human rights and suppress dissent.