Escalating Censorship Threats

Tue, 2017-10-17 18:26

Long in the crosshairs of authoritarian actors, a variety of tools relied on to circumvent censorship have recently been met with a new wave of aggressive tactics to limit or prevent their adoption. In particular, China has successfully pressured Apple to remove circumvention apps and ordered the nation’s largest telecommunications companies to prevent the operation of popular circumvention tools, while Russia has passed a law requiring circumvention tools to prevent their users from accessing any of the websites the government has blocked.

These developments further highlight to OTF the importance of advancing technical mechanisms that ensure freedom of communication for repressed populations. We need your ideas, expertise and passion to do so.

Numerous promising technical approaches have been developed that overcame previous attempts by censors such as obfs4domain frontingShadowsocksStreisand and Snowflake. Many of these circumvention techniques continue to provide access in repressive environments. Nonetheless, as the risks associated with circumventing censorship become more prominent, formal, and institutionalized, minimizing a government’s ability to identify users relying on this technology, in addition to circumventing censorship, has grown in importance. We encourage those investigating or developing these next-generation solutions to seek OTF support.

Continued advances in innovative design and distribution strategies that increase the ease with which users can adopt these solutions are also needed. If you have ideas on how to better assist ordinary internet users overcome censorship and freely access content, we want to hear them. This includes third party integrations that do not require users to perform any setup or configuration and publisher based solutions OTF has highlighted previously. These efforts have taken on a new level of complexity and importance with the companies controlling the mobile ecosystem acquiescing to government pressure. Additional creative solutions are needed that adapt to this changing landscape.

OTF has various funds and labs that allow the program to facilitate advancement in these areas. These include:

Internet Freedom Fund – This fund serves as OTF’s primary vehicle to receive applications. If none of the other initiatives suit your project, this is the best place to submit it. Applications can request as little at $10,000 or as much as $900,000.

Rapid Response Fund – This fund focused on responding to immediate threats to Internet freedom. Applications should be time bound and in direct response to an ongoing censorship event. Applications can be for no more than $50,000.

Core Infrastructure Fund – This is an appropriate vehicle for those looking to build the foundational technology that could be integrated by third parties rather than creating a tool to serve end users directly.

Information Controls Fellowship – This program places individual researchers with appropriate host organizations to carry out research including to analyze new forms of censorship and develop new mechanisms to overcome them. We offer 3, 6 and 12 month fellowships.

Red Team Lab – Circumvention tools, especially those seeking to provide security in addition to access, can apply here to have a professional security audit performed that details vulnerabilities and offers potential mitigations.

Usability Lab – This OTF Lab is relaunching soon and will offer the opportunity to have an analysis of a proposed or existing tool to determine how it can better accommodate non-technical and non-western users.