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Internet Freedom Fund

The Internet Freedom Fund is OTF's primary way to support projects and people working on open and accessible technology-focused projects that promote human rights, Internet freedom, open societies.

OTF aims to support technologists and activists bring to life ideas that advance inclusive and safe access to global communications networks, counteract censorship and surveillance, and mitigate digital security threats to Internet freedom specifically for at-risk-users, journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists and others living in repressive environments. OTF prioritizes projects coming from individuals or organizations who are applying for the first time, identify as under-represented within the field, and address areas that are underfunded.

The Internet Freedom Fund accepts applications on a rolling basis and is done in a two-stage-process. Applications are submitted as concept notes, upon positive review, OTF invites the applicant to submit a full proposal. The projects and people we support all fall into one or more of the following areas: Technology Development, Applied Research, Digital Security Support, or Events.

Please visit our guidebook for additional information about our application process.

The video below guides you through the concept note step by step, explaining what we’re looking for under each question. We hope that this video, in combination with our revamped guidebook, will help guide you better through the process of applying for funding from OTF.


Technology Development

In this category we support the development of innovative Internet freedom technology, prototypes, and projects as well as core infrastructure projects that serve the Internet freedom and human rights communities. OTF seeks to support technology-focused interventions with clear human-centred benefits for Internet freedom.

Applications for this fund could include:

  • Creating new open source circumvention technologies
  • Improving the security, usability, and adaptability of existing open source Internet freedom technologies, as well as maintenance and upgrades
  • New content redistribution methods able to reintroduce content behind firewalls, or similar services;
  • Next-generation tools that move beyond traditional “cat-and-mouse” circumvention techniques;
  • Improving security standards, quality assurance, and best practices within core infrastructure projects;
  • Efforts that make existing projects more accessible and easier to contribute to (ex. documentation, tool migration, refactoring code, testing)

Applied Research

Applied research efforts supported through the Internet Freedom Fund should be applied - that is, with direct feedback, insight, or applicability to the technology development process. This research may include identifying how, why, or where censorship is happening, studying specific Internet freedom tools and ways to improve them, advancing knowledge around what types of content censors target, or assessing threats to Internet freedom in a specific geographic context.

Applications for this fund could include:

  • Research that focuses on real-time monitoring and analysis of both technical and political threats to Internet freedom, including network interference and shutdowns;
  • Research exploring new methods of circumvention that would improve the resiliency of widely utilized tools;
  • Efforts that increase the understanding and awareness of relevant actors in this space, their roles, and how they contribute to maintaining the Internet’s core ecosystem
  • User research that identifies Internet Freedom needs for people living under repressive surveillance and censorship, how current and future technologies and tools can help address those needs better, and research into how these tools can introduce usability and localization improvements within the context of the afore-mentioned people.

Digital Security

OTF aims to fill missing digital security capacity needs for on-the-ground organizations promoting human rights, focusing on those fighting to increase free expression and Internet freedom. Further, OTF seeks to support efforts that increase the developer communities’ understanding of the challenges that organizations and users are facing on the ground, when maintaining digital security strategies or using their tools.

Applications in this category should have the development of technology as one of their primary outcomes. This can be achieved by providing user feedback to technology developer communities; deepening the field’s understanding of front-line challenges and existing technology limitations; strengthening the relationships between technology developers and communities in need.

Applications for this fund could include:

  • Projects that provide new or deeper insights into the circumstances of front-line communities that ultimately contribute to challenges for their digital security training and capacity building initiatives,
  • Projects that foster long-term improvements to a community’s digital security practices, demonstrate a clear path of continued engagement (rather than one-off assistance) and are clearly derived from the needs of the intended communities being assisted.
  • Projects with clear documentation or feedback for the Internet Freedom technologist/ technology development community’s benefit (such as: public report detailing digital security assistance efforts, bug reporting following assistance, co-designed digital security assistance with key internet freedom technology projects, etc.)
  • OTF does not directly support one-off training, training of trainers, or organizational capacity building as an effort’s primary outcome.

Community Convenings

OTF provides funding that empowers Internet freedom communities to become stronger and vibrant by focusing on cultivating deeper trust relationships, improving knowledge share and collaboration, and supporting and diversifying the next generation of leaders. The efforts we support bring in new voices not well represented in current conversations and help create collaboration and intersectionality.

We believe that as the global network grows and diversifies to meet more complex challenges, the need to build a collective vision and strategy becomes even more important. We prioritize new projects that have not received funding in the past, as well as those being organized by the communities most affected by censorship and surveillance. OTF will only consider applications for events with a start date that is at least 90 - 120 days away from when the application has been submitted to ensure the completion of the review and compliance process. OTF will not consider applications for events that have already occurred.

Applications for this fund could include:

  • Targeted research and development gatherings designed to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing between projects in the areas of privacy, circumvention technology, and digital security;
  • Community organized events to identify needs, share resources, and gain new insights about censorship, surveillance and digital security issues.

Award information

OTF awards are performance-based contracts 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.

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.

More Information:

We have more information about our application process compiled in our guidebook:

The Review Process: What does the process look like overall when applying at OTF.

Concept Note considerations: The questions OTF asks when reviewing submitted applications.

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. 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.

Providing Internet Connectivity

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.

Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D)

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.

Legal Analysis and Policy Advocacy

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.

OTF’s Advisory Council is made up of a diverse array of subject matter experts who understand various relevant fields and issues as they relate to Internet freedom. In their capacity as Advisory Council members, they provide strategic guidance to OTF, including by reviewing proposals.

A list of projects the Internet Freedom Fund has supported in the past. Please visit our results page for a list of all projects we've supported.

OONI: Open Observatory of Network Interference

OONI Probe is free and open source software designed to measure internet censorship and other forms of network interference.

Tor Project

For the past ten years, the Tor Project has been providing the world with technology and research essential to protecting privacy and freedom of speech online.

OpenNet Africa

The OpenNet Africa initiative is working to bolster digital rights and security knowledge for at-risk groups in five African countries.

(n+1)Sec

A secure group messaging protocol allowing instantaneous communications between any number (n) of people

Open Integrity Index

Open Integrity is a platform allowing the collaborative fact-checking of software security and privacy claims.

Internet Freedom Festival

The Internet Freedom Festival (IFF) is one of the largest gatherings in the world that brings together activists, journalists, developers, humanitarian workers…

Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa

The Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) is an annual multi-stakeholder event focus on protecting and promoting internet rights throughout Africa, a…

Citizen Lab Summer Institute

The Citizen Lab Summer Institute on Monitoring Internet Openness and Rights is a series of intensive research workshops hosted annually at the Munk School of G…

Pakistan Online Harassment Hotline

The first 24/7, free, and confidential support service for anyone experiencing online harassment in Pakistan, focusing on 4 main program areas: User Support, S…

MeasurementKit

This project improved the sustainability and cross platform compatibility of the MeasurementKit project.

Rights Action Lab

The Rights Action Lab is focused on building the capabilities of three Tibetan civil society organizations (CSOs) so they can better respond to emergency respo…

Sub Saharan-Africa Cyber Regionalism and Elections

The project generated detailed studies of information controls in Lesotho, Rwanda and Angola.

NetBlocks Framework

NetBlocks is a modular technology framework for internet governance transparency, enabling real-time detection and monitoring of mass-scale network controls wh…

Checkdesk Sources

Checkdesk Sources is a powerful open source toolkit for journalists and transparency advocates to track online social media sources and quickly assess whether …

Tor BSD Diversity Project

The Tor BSD Diversity Project (TDP) is an initiative which extended the use of the BSD Unix operating systems in the Tor public anonymity network.

Certbot Improvements

Certbot is a tool built by EFF to help encrypt the Internet by installing SSL/TLS certificates for free. Previously known as the “Let’s Encrypt client”, Certb…

WeChatscope

Wechatscope aims to develop a systematic, scalable and robust system to collect, analyze, and visualize a representative set of censored messages of Wechat’s p…

Suspicious Email Submitter

The Suspicious Email Submitter is an extension for common web browsers and email clients that enables the user in one-click to submit a suspicious email with a…

Derechos Digitales

Derechos Digitales, assisted with bringing online privacy and anonymity to various communities in Latin America.

Adversary Lab

Adversary Lab is a service that analyzes captured network traffic to extract statistical properties.

NewNode

NewNode is the first decentralized peer-to-peer content delivery protocol, enabling data distribution free from censorship, spying, and attack.

Sub-Saharan Africa Cyber Threat Modeling

This project detected, documented, and analyzed current and emerging cyber threats with a long term goal to mitigate their impact on users at risk in specific …

Securing Domain Validation

This project secures Internet domain validation against attackers that manipulate Internet routing via Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) hijack and interception at…

CGIProxy

CGIProxy is “the original anti-censorship software,” allowing anyone anywhere to view and share web content.

Human Rights Internet Censorship Dashboards for South-East Asia

The project is focused on providing an accessible means of understanding censorship occurring in Southeast Asia.

OpenAppStack

This project seeks to build a suite of provisioning tooling to allow for automated deployment and management of OSS groupware tools, secure communication, circ…

Server-Side Investigation: Characterizing and Measuring VPN Service Providers

Current efforts to understand the state of censorship often neglects the existence of server-side blocking, monitoring, and tampering; especially when private …

Magma

This project focused on building a research framework for individuals analyzing information controls through network measurements.

Security Policy Generator

Security Support for Sexual Minority Groups in Nigeria

Internet Outage Detection and Analysis

IODA is an operational prototype system that monitors the Internet, in near-realtime, to identify macroscopic Internet outages affecting the edge of the networ…

Fake Antenna Detection Project

Tahoe-LAFS

Helping human rights organizations in repressive contexts better utilize Tahoe-LAFS, an open source, secure option for file storage, sharing, and management.

MassBrowser

Furthering the development of MassBrowser, a volunteer-driven censorship circumvention tool.

Tor Onion Services

The Tor Project will improve onion services, one of the few censorship circumvention technologies that allow users to route around censorship while simultaneou…

Slowdowns as Censorship

Measuring and countering throttling as a censorship mechanism

WireGuard

Building a more secure, accessible and resilient WireGuard VPN protocol

OpenArchive

Preserving media content in the face of censorship

Strengthening Digital Security for Journalists and HRDs in Mexico

Delta Chat

Enabling decentralized secure messaging utilizing email provider infrastructure

Ouinet

A technology utilizing peer-to-peer networking and distributed storage to enable censorship circumvention

FORT RPKI Validator

Routing Technology for a Free and Open Internet

Security Training and Support for LGBTIQ Communities and Allies in Indonesia

Providing holistic digital security training for LGBTIQ organizations in Indonesia

Digital Security Skill-Building for Grassroots NGOs in Mexico

Improving long-term digital security practices for at-risk groups in Mexico

RAWRR

Helping document and monitor security interventions

Evolving Censorship Evasion Strategies

This project seeks to automate the censorship circumvention process, training AI to quickly test and learn viable circumvention techniques.

5G and Human Rights

This project will analyze the societal risks of network virtualization and autonomation in new digital communication infrastructures.

Zanga

Creating an open source app store customized for MENA region users

PiGuard

Improving the digital security of independent media and human rights organizations by developing and deploying censorship-resistant WireGuard-based VPN connect…

Relaynet

Building networked apps that can remain connected in the event of a complete Internet shutdown

Azerbaijan Internet Watch

This project will address the large information gap that currently exists around critical developments related to Internet freedom in Azerbaijan, which has tak…

Ayanda

Developing an open source library that offers tools for offline-network communication based on sending data through BlueTooth, WiFi, and ultrasonic-sound techn…

Secure UX Design Method

Developing a how-to guide for researchers, engineers, product managers, designers, and teams who are working with highly at-risk communities.

Tella

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