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U.S. Launches New Effort to Evade China’s Internet Firewalls

The U.S. State Department plans to spend $19 million to help dissidents bypass Iranian and Chinese Internet censorship, including distribution of new technology dubbed “slingshot” that circumvents firewalls in those countries.

Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, who heads the department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, made the announcement Tuesday in Washington, as U.S. criticism of China’s human rights record overshadowed high-level annual talks between the world’s two largest economies.

The new software uses algorithms to track what users in Iran and China seek to see and are blocked from accessing. Then it would “slingshot” it back around those countries’ firewalls, getting it onto blogs, web sites, or other venues, according to Posner.

“We’re going to be redirecting information back that the government has initially blocked,” Posner said in a telephone briefing.

He noted that China’s conduct on human rights has undergone a “pretty dramatic deterioration” recently. Lawyers, artists and activists have disappeared. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described China’s record on various freedoms as “deplorable” in an Atlantic magazine interview published yesterday.

When Clinton gave a February speech about Internet freedom, the words “Hillary Clinton” disappeared from the web in China, Posner said.

More recently, the words “Egypt” and “Jasmine” -- the nickname given to the revolutionary unrest sweeping the Middle East -- disappeared from Chinese web searches. Social networking sites such as Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Google Inc. have been central in organizing protests in the region.

The $19 million represents the last of $30 million in funding the State Department was given in fiscal year 2010 for Internet-related projects. Posner said the $20 million that Congress allotted the department for the current fiscal year will be spent quickly.

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