The Internet Freedom Fund is OTF's primary way to support projects and people working on open and accessible technology-centric projects that promote human rights, Internet freedom, open societies, and help advance inclusive and safe access to global communications networks for at-risk users including journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists, and every-day people living within repressive environments who wish to speak freely online.
Setting the stage
Through the Internet Freedom Fund, OTF strives to uphold and increase capacity for individuals, organizations, and companies who support technology-centered efforts that aim to strengthen Internet freedom and promote human rights by circumventing repressive censorship and surveillance, improving related digital security capabilities, and contributing to the overall health of the Internet.
Ideal Internet Freedom Fund applicants are:
- Open in nature and collaborative;
- From within communities affected by censorship or are co-designing and co-developing with them;
- Promoting a deeper understanding of Internet freedom challenges and limitations;
- Solving a currently unaddressed challenge or preempting an emerging one; and/or
- Are actively maintaining technologies demanded and utilized by people on the front lines of the world’s most repressive environments.
Ideal applications for this fund are focused on:
- Creating new open source circumvention technologies that fill a current need of targeted users;
- Improving the security, usability, and adaptability of existing open source Internet freedom technologies;
- Providing new or deeper insights into the challenges of front-line communities that ultimately contribute to the improvement of technological solutions;
- Projects that emphasize applied research;
- Research that focuses on real-time monitoring and analysis of both technical and political threats to Internet freedom, including network interference and shutdowns;
- New content redistribution methods able to reintroduce content behind firewalls, or similar services;
- Making targeted communities more resilient to digital attacks via customized solutions in-line with OTF criteria;
- Creating new open source circumvention technologies that fill a current need of targeted users;
- Next-generation tools that move beyond traditional “cat-and-mouse” circumvention techniques;
Ideal applications adhere to the following:
- Candidates can apply for up to $900,000 and no less than $10,000 for a year long contract. Note, however, that OTF’s target support ceiling is $300,000, with most supported efforts receiving between $50,000 and $200,000. More information on OTF’s previous levels of support can be found in our Annual Reports.
- Preference is given to organizations and individuals without a history of prior support, and who have a deep understanding of the surveillance, censorship and security issues affecting communities from the Global South living in repressive environments.
- Strong priority goes to projects with the potential for immediate impact and long-term sustainability, and that make intellectual property publicly available via open licensing and open source code.
- OTF highly values projects that incorporate collaborative partnerships with other organizations and/or individuals within the Internet freedom community or their respective area of focus.
Common Ineligible Areas of Focus:
OTF knows our applicants’ time is valuable so we aim to make our application process as transparent and straightforward as possible. Part of this also means being transparent about what we don’t fund so that applicants do not expend unnecessary time and resources submitting applications that fall outside of OTF’s remit. In order to better reflect our respect for an applicant’s time and effort in submitting an application, we have detailed below common types of proposed projects that we are unable or very rarely support. If your project falls within one of these categories, we encourage you to explore our alternative sources of support resources to identify a more suitable funder.
OTF does not provide support for basic connectivity except in limited cases around politically instigated internet shutdowns. Numerous U.S. Government programs outside of OTF provide support for bringing Internet connectivity to areas that have never had it previously. The framework OTF operates within ensures a clear distinction exists to protect against overlapping mandates which is why we do not support projects of this nature.
OTF does not provide support for projects focused on harnessing technology for the purpose of societal development. Numerous U.S. Government programs exist to support civic technology projects that use technology to solve societal challenges, such as improving government delivery of services, providing equitable access to technologies and improving digital literacy across society. The OTF program is focused on assisting those exposed to censorship or surveillance in repressive environments.
OTF does not provide support for projects to improve the legal and policy landscape, outside of narrowly focused technical research to help inform these efforts. Numerous U.S. Government programs provide support for efforts to conduct legal analysis and improve advocacy for specific policies. The framework OTF operates within ensures a clear distinction exists to protect against overlapping mandates. In addition, these types of activities do not reflect the technology centric approach underlying the OTF program.
OONI: Open Observatory of Network Interference
Open Integrity Index
Internet Freedom Festival
Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa
Citizen Lab Summer Institute
Pakistan Online Harassment Hotline
Rights Action Lab
Sub Saharan-Africa Cyber Regionalism and Elections
Tor BSD Diversity Project
Suspicious Email Submitter
Sub-Saharan Africa Cyber Threat Modeling
Securing Domain Validation
Human Rights Internet Censorship Dashboards for South-East Asia
Server-Side Blocking: Characterizing and Measuring Service Provider’s Discrimination
Security Policy Generator
Security Support for Sexual Minority Groups in Nigeria
Internet Outage Detection and Analysis
Fake Antenna Detection Project
Tor Onion Services
Slowdowns as Censorship
Strengthening Digital Security for Journalists and HRDs in Mexico
FORT RPKI Validator
Security Training and Support for LGBTIQ Communities and Allies in Indonesia
Digital Security Skill-Building for Grassroots NGOs in Mexico
Evolving Censorship Evasion Strategies
5G and Human Rights
Azerbaijan Internet Watch
Secure UX Design Method
Criteria and the application process
Quality of project idea: Applications should exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to the mission of promoting freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online.
Ability to achieve objectives: A relevant work plan should demonstrate substantive undertakings and logistical capacity of the organization. The work plan should adhere to the overview and guidelines described above. Objectives should be ambitious, yet measurable and achievable. After this application, OTF will request a full proposal, where applicants will have to provide a monthly timeline of project activities.
Cost effectiveness: Any overhead and administrative components included in the application should be kept as low as possible. All items should be necessary and appropriate. Cost sharing is strongly encouraged and is viewed favorably by OTF.
Multiplier effect/sustainability: Applications should address how the expected results will contribute to improving Internet freedom goals. Applications should address how the effort will be sustained in the long-term.
Applicants’ record and capacity: OTF will consider the past performance of prior recipients and the demonstrated potential of new applicants. Proposed personnel and institutional resources should be adequate and appropriate to achieve the project’s objectives.
Submitting a concept note is always the first step to getting the process started. If your concept note is accepted, you will be invited to submit a full proposal.
For a full rundown of desired project criteria and the application process, head here.
When are requests for applications made?
Internet Freedom Fund concept notes are accepted on a rolling basis, with submission rounds closing every two months. For the next upcoming batch deadline, see the header at the top of this page. Please note that concept notes must be submitted via the OTF website no later than 23:59 (11:59PM) GMT on the deadline date listed at the top of this page in order to be considered for that round.
To stay up to date on this and other OTF funding opportunities, sign up to join the OTF-announce mailing list.
Chief Strategist, Red Hat
Anthony D. Joseph
University of California at Berkeley
Technology Director, Access
Security Technologist and Author
Author, Journalist, and Activist
Director, Office of Internet Freedom, Broadcasting Board of Governors
Advocacy and Policy Director, Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
Digital Security Consultant, Front Line Defenders
Program Officer at Open Society Human Rights Initiative
Executive Director and Co-Founder, The Engine Room
Tow Center for Digital Journalism & Columbia Journalism School
Jillian C. York
Director for International Freedom of Expression, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Senior Staff Security Engineer, Slack
Usable Security; Privacy Lead, School of Computing Science, University of Glasgow
Interaction Designer and User Researcher
Design Strategist and User Experience Designer
UX Research and Strategy at All Turtles
Marcin de Kaminski
OTF awards are performance-based contracts (see an example template here) signed directly with the applicant. Payment is issued on completion of stated objectives, activities, and deliverable per a schedule outlined in the contract. OTF reserves the right to award less or more than the funds requested as deemed in the best interest of OTF’s priorities.
Applications that request more than the award ceiling of $900,000 or less than the award floor of $10,000 may be deemed technically ineligible. Note that OTF’s target support ceiling is $300,000, with most supported efforts receiving between $50,000 and $200,000.
Application requirements, submission, and deadlines
Project and Budget Periods
OTF awards are generally 6 to 18 months in duration. From time to time, OTF may consider requests to extend existing contracts beyond previously agreed upon duration. Any such decision will be subject to availability of funds, satisfactory progress of the applicants, and a determination that continued funding would be in the best interest of program priorities.
Monitoring & Evaluation
Successful applicants selected by OTF are paired with an OTF program manager who oversees all project monitoring and evaluation for the duration of the awarded contract life-cycle. Monitoring and evaluation assessments are largely based on predetermined and agreed upon metrics, deliverable, and goals as laid out by the applicant in the project proposal work-plan.
As described above, because payment is dispersed at regular intervals upon completion of stated contractual goals, successful applicants can expect regular contact with their OTF project manager. Monitoring consists of compulsory monthly reports and also phone, email, or in-person discussions and consultations as needed.
Ideal applicants are making use of, support, or develop open and accessible technologies promoting human rights and open societies, and help advance inclusive and safe access to global communications networks. In addition, ideal applicants meet one or more of the following:
- Individuals of all ages irrespective of nationality, residency, creed, gender, or other factors, with the exception that OTF is not able to support applicants within countries that the United States has trade restrictions or export sanctions as determined by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC);
- Non-profit organization/non-government organization, including U.S.-based NGO, PIO, or foreign NGO;
- Non-profit university or research institution in any country;
- For-profit organization or business in any country;
- Consortia of multiple people or organizations with one individual or organization designated as the lead applicant;
- Have demonstrated experience administering successful projects, preferably targeting the requested program area, or similarly challenging program environments where OTF reserves the right to request additional background information on organizations;
- Ideal applicants should not duplicate or simply add to efforts supported by other USG funding programs;
- Ideal applicants must not reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate, or representative of a designated terrorist organization, whether or not elected members of government.
A Commitment to Diversity
OTF prioritizes projects coming from individuals or organizations who are new to the Internet freedom community, identify as under-represented within the field, and are requesting less than $300,000 for efforts with a duration less than 12 months. This allows us to empower a new pool of technology and development talent that may not have been otherwise supported.