OTF's FY 2018 Annual Report highlights the incredible projects, fellows, and initiatives working to advance internet freedom in the face of growing censorship and surveillance threats.
The Open Technology Fund’s FY2018 Annual Report covers the activities supported by the Open Technology Fund (OTF) with FY2018 funds. In this report you’ll find all projects, fellows, and labs (with a small number of exceptions for highly sensitive projects) that OTF supported with FY2018 funds, which were expended from roughly July 2018 through September 2019.
During the period covered by FY2018 funding, OTF funded over 32 innovative projects to combat censorship and repressive surveillance, 18 fellowships to support cutting-edge research and digital security interventions, 6 labs to improve the security, usability, resiliency and interoperability of key Internet freedom technologies, and 22 rapid response interventions to address digital emergencies.
- Advanced Circumvention Technology: OTF has invested in better documenting the vulnerabilities in widely used VPN protocols and the privacy practices of commercial VPNs, and has supported several emerging circumvention solutions to address these issues, such as WireGuard and MassBrowser.
- Combatting Internet Shutdowns: Over the last year, governments around the world have shut down the Internet over 200 times. In order to ensure that citizens can continue to access and share digital content in the face of Internet shutdowns, OTF has invested in unique peer-to-peer technologies that enable content-sharing and communication without an Internet or cellular connection, including: Briar, Ouinet, NewNode, Qaul.net, and Ayanda.
- Encrypted SNI: Blocking websites through the unencrypted SNI field is an increasingly pervasive censorship tactic, and is being used extensively in China as well as in Venezuela. Over the last year, OTF has supported a central actor in the IETF working group to finalize the encrypted SNI standard and create the template code to minimize any challenges associated with implementation. This will dramatically increase adoption of encrypted SNI and remove a primary blocking strategy employed by censorship regimes.
- Secure Document Sharing and Storage: As part of their daily operations, journalists, media networks, and human rights organizations frequently collect, store, and share sensitive information. In order to address this threat and to protect information at rest and shared within an organization, OTF has supported the development of several open source, secure file storage and file-sharing system designed for journalists and human rights organizations, including Globaleaks, Tahoe-LAFS, OpenArchive, and OpenAppStack.
- More Secure Messaging: While many secure messaging platforms include important security features, such as end-to-end encryption, many still put users at risk by relying on and exposing users’ phone numbers. In response, OTF has supported the development of Delta Chat, a new messaging application that provides enhanced user privacy and security with end-to-end encryption without requiring a phone number or a central server.
- Timely, Accurate Censorship Detection: Growing levels of Internet censorship have heightened the need for robust censorship detection and analysis tools. Recognizing this, OTF has invested in the development and implementation of leading censorship detection tools, including the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) and the Internet Outage Detection and Analysis (IODA) project.
- Exposing Repressive PRC Surveillance: OTF has also played a key role in investigating and exposing PRC-affiliated apps used for repressive surveillance, including tools used by the government to target religious minority Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, such as the “BXAQ” app, the Jingwang app, and the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), as well as the widely used PRC-affiliated app, Study the Great Nation. Research supported by OTF also tracked the export of Chinese censorship and surveillance technologies and tactics to 102 countries around the world.
- Responding to Digital Emergencies Around the World: Over the last year, OTF supported rapid response interventions across the globe to help journalists and human rights defenders respond to digital attacks and other forms of online censorship, including in places such as Venezuela, Hong Kong, Iran, Egypt, Gambia, DRC, Tibet, Thailand, Bahrain, Sudan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Vietnam and Azerbaijan.
Despite these efforts, threats to Internet freedom have escalated dramatically over the past year. Repressive regimes are deploying a new generation of advanced censorship and surveillance technology that is designed to stifle dissent, track minorities, and manipulate content online. These and other efforts by repressive regimes are fundamentally re-shaping the Internet from a shared, global platform to isolated networks of censorship and control. Consequently, over two thirds of the world’s population live in a country where the Internet access is restricted, and that number is growing.
As a result of this escalating threat, OTF saw a substantial increase in demand for support through our various funds, fellowships, and services. During the FY2018 period, OTF received over 1,500 concept notes through the Internet Freedom and Core Infrastructure Funds, in addition to hundreds of Fellowship, Lab, and Rapid Response requests. This is the most applications for funding that OTF has ever received and is clear evidence of the growing need for OTF’s services. As a result of this increasing demand for support, OTF’s funding continues to become more competitive. In calendar year 2019, for instance, OTF was able to fund just 3% of applications submitted to the Internet Freedom and Core Infrastructure Funds.
Yet despite the challenges to internet freedom globally, OTF’s FY2018 Annual Report and the projects, fellows, and initiatives it highlights serve as a hopeful counterbalance. OTF is proud to be able to support the incredible work of so many committed defenders of a free internet. The dedication, ingenuity, and resiliency of the internet freedom community is the greatest weapon we have in the fight against authoritarian governments’ impulses toward ever greater control. And with bipartisan support from congress and more resources than ever in FY2020, OTF is ready to help continue that fight.