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OTF Announces Latest Round of Information Controls Fellows

| By: Adam Lynn

Fellows to research DoS attacks on at-risk groups; develop new circumvention tools; advance censorship detection; investigate malware-enabled espionage operations; and more

The Open Technology Fund (OTF) has selected nine 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, legal, policy, technology development, research, 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 settle in 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:

Ihsan Ayyub Qazi
Host organization: International Computer Science Institute, UC Berkeley
As a six-month senior fellow, Ihsan will work on the design and analysis of an incentive-compatible tool for measuring internet censorship at scale. This project will leverage the expertise at University of California, Berkeley to assess the tool’s security and privacy aspects and complete its implementation in preparation for a public release. Ihsan will build off his previous research on the topic (see “A Case for Marrying Censorship Measurements with Circumvention”), seeking to bring the concept from theory to practice.

Adnan Bashir
Host organization: Calipr research group at University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Adnan’s project focuses on the identification of any deployed middleboxes in Pakistan and assessing their impact on internet freedom in the country. Major goals of this project are identifying internet choke points, fingerprinting these middleboxes based on their implementation, comparing censorship regimes by accessing URLs within and outside Pakistan, and anticipating what type of policies or practices can be inferred based off the experimental results.

Taha Khan
Host organization: International Computer Science Institute, UC Berkeley
As a six-month senior fellow, Taha will work to better understand the commercial Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) ecosystem, focusing specifically on how they handle user traffic and to what extent these services actually stand up to their public privacy claims. The project will provide users with a web service based on empirical evidence, which can be accessed by global users to understand the specifics of VPN services and aid them in making a more informed choice when selecting amongst available VPN services.

Sergei Hovyadinov
Host organization: Ranking Digital Rights Project, Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation
Sergei will create an in-depth analysis of the role of internet intermediaries in the execution of Russian state controls over the internet and how these companies adjust their operations and transparency practices when working in autocratic regimes like Russia. In addition, Sergei will seek to identify the types of filtering used by these intermediaries in Russia and their impact.

Zack Weinberg
Host organization: Calipr research group at University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Zack will work over the next year to further develop software capable of continually refining the set of web pages monitored for censorship in various countries, and for assisting with analysis of the censorship policies in these countries. Zach’s previous research includes “Topics of Controversy: An Empirical Analysis of Web Censorship Lists.”

Igor Valentovitch
Host organization: Equalit.ie
Igor will conduct comparative research on the progress of information controls in the former Soviet Union space. He will investigate instances of blocking and DDoS attacks against the online platforms of local civil society projects to identify common trends and isolate potent triggers of internet censorship in the region. His research will also shed light on censors’ blocking strategies and capabilities.

Ksenia Ermoshina
Host organization: Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Ksenia will work with Citizen Lab to provide a thorough analysis of informational controls, surveillance and circumvention tactics in the region of Crimea. She will employ a hybrid methodology combining network measurements, science and technology studies, and a qualitative ethnographic approach. Ksenia’s previous research includes “Migrating Servers, Elusive Users: Reconfigurations of the Russian Internet in the Post-Snowden Era.”

Simone Basso
Host organization: Measurement Lab, Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation
Simone will spend his fellowship focused on advancing the MeasurementKit platform. MeasurementKit is the engine underneath censorship detection tool OONI-Probe’s mobile testing platform and the Measurement Lab performance testing platform, which generate millions of data points each year. It is currently being integrated into OONI’s desktop testing platform, creating a streamlined approach to future maintenance and upkeep. As a result, Simone will take on a variety of tasks to increase measurement capability and flexibility, platform availability and third party integrations. Some of the proposed work will create critical improvements to detecting network shutdowns. Simone’s previous research includes “Measuring DASH Streaming Performance from the End Users Perspective using Neubot.”

Arzu Geybullayeva
Host organization: Berkman Klein Center, Harvard University
Arzu will work to advance understanding of information controls in Azerbaijan. She will perform research around the country’s internet infrastructure and relevant country legislation, document past internet blocks and surveillance mechanisms used, and also track network interference. Arzu’s previous research includes “In the crosshairs of Azerbaijan’s patriotic trolls.”

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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.

To learn more about the ICFP, click here.