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State Dept. helps activists thwart web censorship abroad

In this photo illustration a smartphone displays a page from Twitter on January 27, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt.
In this photo illustration a smartphone displays a page from Twitter on January 27, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty

The State Department is set to announce $28 million in grants to help activists thwart internet censorship in repressive countries, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.

The recent wave of revolutions in the Middle East and Africa has highlighted young people's use of Twitter, Facebook, and Google to organize protests and government opposition -- as well as governments' willingness to cut off those services and even shut down all access to the web.

Complete coverage: Anger in the Arab World

The U.S. has also criticized China for its "Great Firewall," which broadly limits citizens' access to internet news and information.

It was not immediately clear which countries would receive the grants or how they would be administered, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried internet crackdowns in Iran and Syria in a recent speech on Internet freedoms.

State Department funds have already supported software that helps pro-democracy activists avoid detection and "the State Department has built up a stable of technically able activists to help democracy movements in places including China and Iran," Bloomberg reported, citing Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Dan Baer. Those activists have created firewall-circumvention software and trained more than thousands of people to avoid detection while using social networking services.

Republicans have criticized the program as wasteful in a time of government austerity.