July 2017 Monthly Report

In July, the Open Technology Fund continued to both receive a large number of support requests and to support a diverse portfolio of internet freedom projects and fellows addressing internet censorship and surveillance threats in closed societies around the world where the free flow of information is curtailed. This month, OTF released its FY2016 annual report, detailing the year’s key results, trends from OTF’s application system, and an overview of OTF programs. Access a summary of the report here or the full report (pdf) here.

Notable accomplishments

  • Decentralized, encrypted messaging tool Briar released its first public beta for Android. The app has already been downloaded more than 10,000 times from the Google Play Store. The Briar team is soliciting feedback on user experiences through the app itself, which will expire on October 21st. Download and try out Briar on your Android device here.

  • The Sub-Saharan Africa Cyber Regionalism and Elections project continued their work examining patterns of censorship in African countries during elections, monitoring the internet during Rwanda’s elections on August 4th while preparing for Angola’s coming legislative elections. A report on internet censorship monitoring during Lesotho’s general elections in June was also published (accessible here).

  • The Tor Project launched their first public bug bounty program, inviting anyone to hunt for security vulnerabilities within Tor and receive payment for disclosing them via the HackerOne platform. This OTF-supported program continues to improve the security of Tor, of great import to the human rights defenders, political dissidents, bloggers, and activists who rely on Tor for safer, more secure internet access. Read more about the bug bounty program here.

  • OTF has launched a new class of Digital Integrity fellows: Bex Hurwitz will be working with a women’s human rights defenders network in East Asia to audit and improve their collective digital security practices. Poncelet Ileleji will be working with Gambian journalists and civil society organizations to bolster their knowledge from the most basic digital security practices to long-term digital security strategies. Stephane Labarthe will be partnering with Colombian NGO Karisma to create a digital security resource center which can be used by journalists, human rights defenders and other at-risk groups seeking assistance. The fellows will be mentored by Jonah Sheridan, who has worked with several internet freedom community projects to design and implement successful digital security strategies.

  • A report authored by ICFP fellow Grace Mutung’u garnered significant attention leading up to Kenya’s August 8th general elections. The policy brief detailed the the legality of an internet shutdown, determining that there was no legal basis for such actions. Grace observed the elections and is now preparing a report covering the election period.

  • New Information Controls Fellow Adnan Bashir began work under contract with OTF. As a senior fellow, Adnan will work with the Calipr research group at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst to detect and identify deployed middleboxes in Pakistan, and determine their impact on internet freedom in the country. Middleboxes can act as internet “choke points” where traffic can be inspected and manipulated (e.g. censored).

  • Security First completed their contract with OTF, which focused on work around Umbrella, an app that provides an easy-to-follow checklist on operational security best practices. The app now features an incident report documentation capability, improved notification support for the app’s dashboard, and added ‘masking’ options for quick concealment. Download Umbrella for Google Play here or via F-Droid here.

  • The Localization Lab added several new tools for translation, including Briar (a decentralized, encrypted messaging tool), SecureDrop (secure submission platform for journalists and media organizations), and FreedomBox (secure, open source personal server). Among existing projects, FreeBooks (GreatFire app offering access to censored texts in digital form) is now fully translated into Persian, and Signal for iOS now has full right-to-left (RTL) compatibility, which will further facilitate translation into languages that use right-to-left script.

  • Censorship detection research platform OONI held its first-ever Partner Gathering at the University of Toronto in mid-July. The meeting, supported by OTF and the Ford Foundation, served as a vital opportunity to foster greater collaboration between OONI and the partner organizations upon which they rely for the collection of network measurement data to study internet censorship in local contexts worldwide. The gathering brought together the OONI team alongside partners from 10 different countries, with representatives from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. Read more here.

    Select news collected by OTF from the month of July 2017 - Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund
    After China’s crackdown, now Russia is banning VPNs too | Quartz
    China’s Weibo Blocks Potential Criticism of Vladimir Putin | Financial Times
    Why the Arrest of IT Trainers in Turkey Affects Us All | Motherboard
    How Badly Is China’s Great Firewall Hurting the Country’s Economy? | Foreign Policy
    Analyzing Censorship of the Death of Liu Xiaobo on WeChat and Weibo | Citizen Lab
    Spyware in Mexico Targeted Investigators Seeking Students | New York Times
    With 118 web sites censored, Egyptian websites try to resist blocking | Reporters Without Borders
    With Social Media, Vietnam’s Dissidents Grow Bolder Despite Crackdown | New York Times
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