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Introducing OTF's Newest ICFP Fellows

| By: Adam Lynn

Fellows to research misinformation campaigns; digital attacks on at-risk groups; potential security vulnerabilities in access and privacy tools; advance censorship detection; investigate malware-enabled espionage operations; and more

The Open Technology Fund (OTF) has selected eleven individuals as the newest Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) fellows. The group will focus on advancing research, analysis, and tool development on topics related to internet censorship.

This latest ICFP cohort includes individuals from a variety of disciplines, crossing lines between computer science, technology development, research, data science, international affairs, human rights, and information security. The common thread uniting this diverse group is their focus on the various aspects of information controls, specifically repressive censorship and surveillance.

We are excited to welcome the new ICFP fellows and can confirm they’ve hit the ground running, already making exciting progress as they begin work with their host organizations. Be sure to check back for progress updates as our fellows continue working hard to combat internet censorship and surveillance.

The incoming fellows, along with their areas of focus, are:

William Tolley
Host organization: International Computer Science Institute, UC Berkeley
Duration: Twelve months
As a Senior Information Controls Fellow, William Tolley is working with Narseo Vallina-Rodriguez at the International Computer Science Institute to explore ways in which private communication is leaked to malicious actors through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and how this can be effectively communicated to both users and developers of VPN technologies.

Nguyen Phong Hoang
Host organization: Calipr research group at University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Duration: Twelve months
Phong will work with University of Massachusetts - Amherst over the next year to study the Invisible Internet Project (I2P) with a focus on the network's censorship resistance. Throughout the project, he will: build a metrics portal for I2P that is expected to provide useful data for other researchers, identify blocking methods that a censor may use to block access to I2P, and investigate potential solutions to make I2P more resistant to blockage. Ultimately, Phong intends to make I2P more accessible to end users who need the tool to circumvent Internet censorship and online surveillance.

Alexei Abrahams
Host organization: Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Duration: Twelve months
As a senior information controls fellow, Alexei will work at Citizen Lab to investigate information manipulation on social media in the Arabian Gulf. Through a combination of data science and game theory, Alexei will document how Arabian Gulf states use automation of centrally controlled accounts (bots) and elite social media influencers to alter the political opinions of domestic and foreign audiences.

Sylvia Kanari
Host organization: East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
Duration: Nine Months
As a senior information control fellow Sylvia will work with East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network to study the application of information controls in Tanzania. The study will investigate the ways in which government and other non-state actors are limiting freedom of expression and other rights online. The project will detect, document and analyze technical and legislative threats to online freedoms with the aim of providing evidence for technical and policy mitigation to threats identified.

Mahsa Alimardani
Host organization: Oxford Internet Institute
Duration: Nine Months
Mahsa Alimardani is an Internet researcher, looking at the intersection of technology and human rights, particularly in Iran. She’s currently a doctoral student at University of Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute, while acting as a senior Information Control Fellow for the Open Technology Fund. She works with ARTICLE19 on their digital rights projects in Iran. Her fellowship project will look at the effect of information controls on user behaviour in Iran, particular in their use of platforms using both qualitative and quantitative data.

Marcus Michaelsen
Host organization: Hivos
Duration: Twelve Months
As a Senior Information Controls Fellow, Marcus will work together with Hivos to investigate digital threats against diaspora activists from Egypt, Iran and Syria. The research will assess the methods, motivations and capabilities of state actors targeting human rights defenders and journalists beyond borders. It will also examine the impact of these threats on the targeted communities and their strategies of resistance. Prior to this fellowship, Marcus has worked as a researcher in the project “Authoritarianism in a Global Age” at the University of Amsterdam.

Name redacted
Host organization: Equalit.ie
Duration: Six Months
This Information Control Fellow will examine Internet censorship and surveillance in Egypt, particularly the adoption of regulations restricting digital freedoms and increasing information controls. They will analyze network interference and DDoS attacks against civil society, while also documenting arrests based on digital expression. Their research will situate technological interventions within the broader social, economic, and political context in Egypt since 2013.

Name redacted
Host organization: OONI
Duration: Twelve Months
This Information Control Fellow will work with OONI-Probe to document internet censorship and surveillance in Manipur, a disputed region of India, and determine the impacts on local marginalized communities with a focus on women in particular. Information on the Manipur region has only recently been available due to the rapid penetration of mobile Internet over the past year. This project will seek to address that existing research on the area fails to provide a deep and comprehensive understanding of the nature and impact of censorship, Internet filtering and intentional shutdowns.

Rebekah Overdorf
Host organization: EPFL
Duration: Twelve Months
While this fellowship has not yet commenced, Rebekah intends to work with École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to develop a comprehensive methodology to (a) identify fake online social network accounts, (b) map their connections to other accounts, and (c) monitor and assess their activities. The methodology will combine state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence methods with investigative journalistic tactics, using Kyrgyzstan as its case study. By automating this detection, the project can analyze the extent, tactics and impact of the effort.

Gabrielle Lim
Host organization: Data & Society
Duration: Twelve Months
Gabrielle will work with Data & Society to better conceptualize and map out the influence of disinformation and media manipulation within three states in Southeast Asia: Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Each of these countries ranks poorly for press freedom and have a history of online information controls and surveillance. The project consists of two core objectives 1. to catalogue, analyze, and understand the tools and tactics, both technical and non-technical, used by state and non-state actors in Southeast Asian to manipulate the media ecosystem and 2. to document the reactions by states in addressing these issues of disinformation, “fake news”, hoaxes.

Valentin Weber
Host organization: Berkman Klein Center
Duration: Six Months
The fellow will work with the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University to illuminate the diffusion of the Russian and Chinese information control models from their originating states to third countries. The study will analyze diffusion across time (2005-today) and space (continents) of censorship and surveillance models.

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The Open Technology Fund (OTF)’s Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) supports examination into how governments in countries, regions, or areas of OTF’s core focus are restricting the free flow of information, impeding access to the open internet, and implementing censorship mechanisms, thereby threatening the ability of global citizens to exercise basic human rights and democracy. The program supports fellows to work within host organizations that are established centers of expertise by offering competitively paid fellowships for three, six, nine, or twelve months in duration.

Interested in becoming an ICFP fellow? OTF will begin accepting applications for the next ICFP cohort on January 10th, 2019, with the deadline to apply set for February 24, 2019. The application and additional information will be accessible from the ICFP home page, found here.