The Open Technology Fund (OTF) was created in 2012 as a program of Radio Free Asia and is sustained by annual grants from the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which originate from yearly U.S. Congressional appropriations for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.
The United States Congress recognized Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) as an appropriate engine to empower world citizenry to support the internet as a safe and secure platform for free speech. To do so, the Open Technology Fund (OTF) was created in 2012 as a program of Radio Free Asia and is sustained by annual grants from the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM, formerly called the BBG), which originate from yearly U.S. Congressional appropriations for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.
The BBG selected RFA as the entity within which to create OTF due to its responsive and agile profile and nonprofit nature, among other factors. OTF works closely with other publicly funded internet freedom programs to fulfill the US Congressional mandate to sustain and increase global internet freedom with public funds.
OTF reports to RFA’s President who in turn reports to the USAGM's Board of Governors. The Board is made up of nine members, eight of whom are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and ultimately serve as RFA’s board of directors. A bipartisan board, by law no more than four members shall be from the same political party. The ninth member ex officio is the U.S. Secretary of State.
Today, this same U.S. Congressional appropriation to the USAGM and grant to RFA continues to be the bedrock of all OTF’s work.
In 2017, the U.S. Congress updated the internet freedom appropriations language for the BBG. FY2017’s BBG internet freedom funds were given the following scope:
(A) made available only for tools and techniques to securely develop and distribute BBG digital content; facilitate audience access to such content on Web sites that are censored; coordinate the distribution of BBG digital content to targeted regional audiences; and to promote and distribute such tools and techniques, including digital security techniques; [emphasis added]
(B) coordinated with programs funded by this Act under the heading ‘‘International Broadcasting Operations’’, and shall be incorporated into country broadcasting strategies, as appropriate;
(C) coordinated by the BBG CEO to provide Internet circumvention tools and techniques for audiences in countries that are strategic priorities for the BBG and in a manner consistent with the BBG Internet freedom strategy;
(D) made available for the research and development of new tools or techniques authorized in paragraph (A) only after the BBG CEO, in consultation with the Secretary of State and other relevant United States Government departments and agencies, evaluates the risks and benefits of such new tools or techniques, and establishes safeguards to minimize the use of such new tools or techniques for illicit purposes.
More about the updated internet freedom language found in the FY2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill can be found in this blog post.
In 2014, Congress modified the internet freedom appropriation language to include:
That funds made available pursuant to this section shall be matched, to the maximum extent practicable, by sources other than the United States Government, including from the private sector.
In response, OTF increased the sharing and exporting of our program’s best practices, procedures, systems, and determinations to facilitate easier matching of public funds with other sources of funding. For many public and private donors, OTF is a learning platform, a front-line vehicle they can look inside of for supporting technology-centric internet freedom and human rights efforts. Other donors have decided that OTF’s model is the right one for them and have chosen to partner more closely, share our mission, values &principles, and make use of the same application system. With OTF as an open and available resource, the risk for established donors to engage into a new area of support is reduced, increasing their entry, and increasing the available pool of funds to match public funds against. Most importantly, the field of internet freedom defenders gains access to greater resources.