U.S. Department of State Internet Freedom Solicitation

Mon, 2014-06-16 18:57

The U.S. Department of State has released their 2014 Internet freedom solicitation. The solicitation includes significantly enhanced information on the priorities and focus of the $18 million in funding. We appreciate the clarity and detail of their solicitation.

Certain components of the solicitation are completely in line with many of those OTF relies on. We find those worth highlighting:

“SOIs regarding technology development should have clear country or regional use-cases or plans for deployment.”

  • OTF has received many technology projects that clearly demonstrate how the development will improve Internet security or privacy writ-large but lack substantive use cases demonstrating how this will help those on the ground.

“SOIs focused on digital safety, advocacy, and research should also have country, region or population specific goals and priorities that are informed by clear field knowledge and expertise.”

  • Many concept notes submitted to OTF could do better to demonstrate field expertise amongst project staff nor propose collaborations with those who do. We’ve found such knowledge key to ensuring the appropriate impact. As such, we echo the encouragement for “applicants to foster collaborative partnerships, especially with local organization(s) in target countries and/or regions, where applicable.”

“Programs that foster enhanced coordination and partnerships with tool developers to improve feedback and structural changes to tools to make them more broadly accessible and usable.”

  • We are encouraged by a shift in focus towards designing Internet freedom tools with end users in mind. These tools are unlikely to ever gain widespread adoption without a user experience that compares with existing products.

When doing an open solicitation, a delicate balance exists between encouragement and discouragement. For instance, a diverse pool of applicants is ideal but not if relevant focus is lost in the process. We applaud the State Department for including a list of “activities that are not typically funded” that we feel strikes an appropriate balance to these competing objectives. The list:

• Academic research with no immediate application; theoretical exploration of technology and/or security issues;

• Purchases of bulk hardware or bulk licenses for commercial encryption or technology products;

• Technology and tools that dictate or suggest specific content.

• Technology development without a clear use case in an Internet repressive environment, or without a clear threat model and understanding of adversarial efforts;

• Study tours, scholarships or exchange projects;

• Projects that focus on expansion of Internet infrastructure, commercial law or economic development;

• Projects not sufficiently connected to real-world impact of improving Internet freedom environments in any country or region.

• Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or without clear evidence of the ability of the applicant to achieve the stated impact;

OTF strongly supports the Internet freedom program within DRL at the Department of State. OTF looks forward to collaborating as we both work towards our common goals. We encourage those within the broader community to review this expanded language and, if applicable, apply for support.