White House to Support Anti-Censorship and Privacy Tech

Close-up of the White House Briefing Room Podium with two USA flags

President Joseph Biden announced a new U.S. Government policy initiative to award grants to technologists and innovators working on anti-censorship and privacy-enhancing technology. The grants are part of the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal that aims to “bolster and defend human rights globally.”

President Biden announced the initiative at the first ever Summit for Democracy. The forum served as a platform for world leaders to gather and discuss the “challenges and opportunities facing democracies in the 21st century.”

U.S. Steps up Efforts to Support Democracy on a Global Scale

Apart from the grants for innovators, the initiative aims to support free media globally, tackle corruption, empower marginalized groups, and defend free and fair elections. The White House published a detailed fact sheet that provides information on the grants and the motivation behind them.

It states that supporting tech that enhances democratic values is not just “the right thing to do,” but is also in the country’s national security interest. This is because rights-respecting nations are more “peaceful, prosperous, and stable” and have historically made for great partners for the U.S.

Grants for Privacy and Anti-Censorship Tech

The grants to technologists and innovators include a series of prize challenges (up to $3.75 million), called the International Grand Challenges on Democracy-Affirming Technologies. The competitions will focus on building AI-based privacy-enhancing technology. It will be funded by various foundations including:

  • National Science Foundation
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • Open Technology Fund
  • Other international partners

It also includes a new fund, called the Multilateral Surge and Sustain Fund for Anti-Censorship Technology, to counter authoritarian censorship of the internet. The US State Department will provide up to $4 million to establish and seed the fund.

More on the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal

The White House describes the initiative as a “significant targeted expansion of U.S. Government efforts to defend, sustain, and grow democratic resilience.”

The U.S. government will partner with like-minded partners, which include governments and other organizations. It plans to provide up to $424.4 million toward the initiative over the next year. This is subject to the approval of Congress and the availability of the funds.

These funds will be distributed through federal agencies such as USAID, the State Department, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Labor, and more. As mentioned earlier, the initiative will focus on five areas of work that are described as “crucial to the functioning of transparent, accountable governance.”

Some of the highlights of the initiative are listed below:

Supporting Free and Independent Journalism

  • Set up a fund called the International Fund for Public Interest Media to support independent media
  • Launch a Media Visibility Accelerator to help independent media outlets around the world be financially viable
  • Setup a global fund, called the Defamation Defense Fund, to defend journalists from spurious lawsuits that aim to intimidate them
  • Setup a Journalism Protection Platform to protect at-risk journalists

Battling Corruption

  • Launch the Empowering Anti-Corruption Change Agents Program, aimed at protecting at-risk persons such as whistleblowers and activists
  • Extend additional support to the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium (GACC) which connects media and civil society organizations to expose corruption
  • Take strategic and regulatory action to curb corruption within the United States. This includes regulations to increase transparency in the US real estate market.
  • Launch the Democracies against Safe Havens Initiative to assist partner governments in taking strong measures to curb corruption
  • Launch a platform to crowd-source ideas from organizations, called the Combating Transnational Corruption Grand Challenge

Bolstering Activists and Reformers

  • Empower historically marginalized groups to ensure they have a fair say in democratic processes
  • For this, the U.S. government will launch the Advancing Women’s and Girls’ Civic and Political Leadership Initiative, as well as the Global LGBTQI+ Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment (GLIDE) Fund
  • Launch four distinct funds that will support workers, activists, and reform-minded leaders

Advancing Technology for Democracy

  • Strengthen the Freedom Online Coalition to further an “open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet”
  • Invest up to $20.3 million in programming that supports inclusive digital ecosystems

Defending Free and Fair Electoral Processes

  • Launch a Coalition for Securing Electoral Integrity that will bring together partners to build common norms and principles for electoral integrity
  • Establish a fund, called the Defending Democratic Elections Fund, which will aim to “pilot, scale, and apply evidence-based responses to threats to electoral integrity and related political processes globally”
Technology policy researcher
Prateek is a technology policy researcher with a background in law. His areas of interest include data protection, privacy, digital currencies, and digital literacy. Outside of his research interests, Prateek is an avid reader and is engaged in projects on sustainable farming practices in India.