Last month, Open Technology Fund participated in RightsCon, the world’s leading summit on human rights in the digital age. For over a decade, RightsCon has been an essential gathering for the Internet freedom and digital rights community. The week-long program hosted panels and community discussions that focused on some of the more pressing issues facing Internet freedom, including the threat of internet shutdowns, protecting the Internet in low-resourced languages, encouraging more community participation in tech infrastructure, and discussing the opportunities and challenges in funding digital rights and security programs worldwide.
As a funder of technology in the Internet freedom space, OTF staff are often asked to weigh in on conversations around how to better support practitioners and those working to build the next generation of technologies that enhance the security, privacy, and accessibility of online users at risk. OTF’s President, Laura Cunningham, spoke on a panel during the summit’s opening day to discuss funding of digital rights and digital security programs. During the panel, Laura joined leaders from USAID, Internews, and the Numun Fund to discuss how funding for programs has progressively increased over the years, and how funders can help to confront increasing threats and issues to Internet freedom.
Another theme at this year’s RightsCon was an increased need for long-term funding of technology projects considered “critical infrastructure”. Bryan Nunez, OTF’s Vice President of Technology, spoke at a panel discussion on forging new models of tech infrastructure through community participation. Bryan argued that the immediate need goes beyond infrastructure and should also include open-source projects that address the specialized requirements of marginalized populations, as those groups tend to have less ability to advocate for their needs in the open-source community.
OTF’s Vice President of Research, Dr. Corinne Cath, joined a discussion on internet shutdowns and how network disruptions affect the work of those in the internet freedom space. During the discussions, Dr. Cath and her fellow panelists discussed the history of the fight against internet shutdowns amidst increased solidarity and mobilization worldwide. Mallory Knodel, an OTF Advisory Council member and Chief Technology Officer at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington DC, led two panel discussions during RightsCon. The first session sought to build and expand action-oriented research on the application of cybernorms, bringing together academics, policymakers, civil society, the info-sec community, and those directly impacted by cyber incidents. The second session looked into how platforms are deepening user research with activists, and how platforms can incorporate activists, those closest to user communities, user experts, and human rights advocates into their user research processes.
An overview of the different RightsCon panels and session highlights can be found here. OTF looks forward to participating in next year’s RightsCon, taking place from June 5 – 9, 2023.