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OTF's Responsible Data Policy

| By: Nat Kretchun

Formed in collaboration with The Engine Room, OTF’s new responsible data (RD) policy is grounded in our guiding values and principles, emphasizing both transparency and privacy. The policy, CC-licensed, is open for adoption and adaptation by others - including other funders in the human rights and technology space.

Background

Back during OTF’s first full year of operations in 2012, we received under a 100 total requests for funding. Fast forward to 2018, and with more than two months remaining in the calendar year, we’ve already received more than 1,000 applications seeking support for internet freedom projects. As OTF grew, we recognized that an important aspect of the scaling-up process would be ensuring that the data of our applicants and supported projects are handled responsibly. We’ve long prioritized transparency as a key tenet of our program, and we’ve spoken before about the key role that human rights funders specifically play in improving responsible data practices, so we took the next logical step: creating and implementing an open, research-driven responsible data (RD) policy.

To put these principles into action, earlier this year we partnered with The Engine Room to conduct community research focusing on analyzing how we at OTF “collect, store, share and publish data,” in order to inform the development of this new RD policy. As a result of this engagement, we are pleased to publish OTF’s responsible data policy, which can be found here.

Research-driven, grounded in principle

You’ll see that the “core values” at the heart of this data policy are shared with those that guide the OTF program: awareness, privacy, security, and access, along with “open philanthropy.” The policy was informed by background research conducted by The Engine Room, including surveys answered by internet freedom community members and interviews with the OTF team, analysis of how our internal processes work, and mapping out where data goes and where it stays. The Engine Room found that there was a clear call from the community for “more reflection and transparency around OTF processes and priorities”; this policy, in turn, incorporates such feedback, while also ensuring that the policy is “a living document” amenable to updates and changes as needed - an important consideration given the shifting, ever-evolving threat models among community actors.

The Engine Room wrote about their experience formulating this policy in a “case study” post, which can be found on the Responsible Data blog here. There, you can read more about the motivation for this policy’s formulation, including more on human rights funders and responsible data practices, how The Engine Room approached the OTF case, and the development and implementation of the policy itself. The policy is CC-licensed, so anyone - including other funders in the human rights and technology ecosystem - is welcome to take this policy and use it for their own implementation, altering it as needed.

Open and evolving

As The Engine Room notes, the publication of this policy does not imply that the process is finished; rather, the present moment represents “just the beginning of an open conversation around OTF’s responsible data practices and the community's needs.” We've committed to reviewing the policy on a yearly basis, seeking feedback to inform potential alterations from relevant stakeholders including the OTF team, the internet freedom community, and other philanthropic funders. We look forward to your feedback and continuing this important conversation moving forward.