We are a group of activists, human rights defenders, and technologists mobilizing support to save internet freedom. In just a few weeks, nearly 500 organizations and 3500 individuals have signed a letter asking Congress to save OTF, including Github, Reddit, EFF, Mozilla on www.saveinternetfreedom.tech

Why save OTF? The Open Technology Fund (OTF) is a critical funder in the global fight for internet freedom. Today, more than two billion people around the world use technologies supported by OTF to communicate securely, circumvent censorship, and combat authoritarianism. OTF was an early funder for Signal and support tools like Lets Encrypt, Tor, and Mailvelope. Projects funded by OTF help people avoid repressive surveillance in Iran, circumvent internet shutdowns in Turkey, and journalists stay safe online in Russia.

Now all of that is in danger. If a new Trump appointee has his way, OTF’s funds and resources could be reallocated to closed-source, private tech companies. The goodwill and trust that has taken years for OTF to build will be wiped away and dismantled. Projects and tools that are the lifeline for journalists, activists, and human rights defenders will be in danger. We are fighting to save internet freedom and OTF.

Read more: The Verge: A new Trump appointee has put internet freedom projects in crisis mode

Newsweek Op-ed: Dictators are Besieging Internet Freedom—and Trump Just Opened the Gates

Who we are:

u/mrphs - Nima Fatemi is the President of Kandoo, a nonprofit org providing cybersecurity for vulnerable populations.

u/jilliancatyork - Jillian York works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and is a member of the OTF Advisory Council.

u/NoNotReallyXee - Xeenarh Mohammed is the Executive Director of TIERs, Digital freedom advocate and queer security trainer from Nigeria 🌈🌈🌈

u/n8fr8 - Nathan Freitas is the founder of Guardian Project, lead developer of Orbot (Tor for Android), Tech Director at Tibet Action Institute, Affiliate at Harvard Berkman-Klein Center.

u/GlitterBlue123 - GlitterBlue is a community organizer at Internet Freedom Festival and works on ensuring the Internet Freedom and FOSS space more diverse and safe for everyone.


Comments: 180 • Responses: 9  • Date: 

HumanistNinja33 karma

What does make you believe a change in the organization's leadership is a threat to OTF's mission?

mrphs17 karma

During the past 7-8 years, the OTF leadership and the community have been working closely to make sure the funded programs answer the needs of the impacted communities. This is a vital aspect of the work that has resulted in making sure all technology produced under these funds are inclusive, open, and freely accessible by anyone around the world. The sudden purge of OTF leadership gives me no confidence that the new USAGM CEO has any interest in what the community needs. It has been through these collaborative efforts that we've been able to see open, sustainable, and expandable tech to protect people in the most hostile and oppressive environments. 

RicketyFrigate15 karma

The sudden purge of OTF leadership gives me no confidence that the new USAGM CEO has any interest in what the community needs.

Wouldn't this be the classic response from someone inside the organization, regardless if it was true or not. Do you have evidence you would like to put forward that shows the new CEO plans to do the things the outgoing leadership is claiming?

where_else14 karma

I follow this situation, and was wondering about that. This Verge article has an interesting bit of information, linking some of the activities with the new USAG guy:

In a pair of letters sent last week, two outside coalitions sent letters calling for all OTF funding to be redirected to four specific projects — Ultrasurf, Freegate, Lantern, and Psiphon — chosen for their usefulness in circumventing China’s “Great Firewall.” It would be a drastic narrowing of OTF’s scope, and for grantees, it’s an abrupt clawback of money that had already been contractually promised.

Apparently since certain organizations (Falun Gong is called out specifically) took part in the new USAGM guy's nomination and confirmation, people are afraid he might be more willing to listen to their lobbying requests.

I personally like Psiphon and Lantern, but I think defunding other efforts just to promote the ones we like is not a fair way to go, and isn't effective long term.

mrphs4 karma

You can also look at their actions. I'm neither inside the organization nor have I ever been. I'm one of those community members that has been working closely with OTF since the early days. The new USAGM leadership has shown 0 appetite to engage with the community members before purging the OTF leadership overnight. If we have had no conversations, how can we be sure they know or understand our concerns?

And since Psiphon was mentioned, I should add, TBOMK, all of the technologies they use to bypass censorship, are open tech and the direct result of the work of internet freedom community. Pluggable Transports (namely meek aka domain-fronting), obfs-ssh, and dns tunneling come to mind. We need funders like OTF to be able to continue the research and development of such crucial technologies in a way that is open, transparent, usable and auditable by the general public.

Monopandillerop1-7 karma

It seems to be a political movement just to put a Republican agenda only, probably just to push things that are interesting for Trump agenda but what about the rest? and more importanttly it's gonna make things easier for opressing governments like China and Russia.

mrphs2 karma

and more importanttly it's gonna make things easier for opressing governments like China and Russia

This is actually true. OTF supports a lot of research and development around censorship circumvention tech. Whether it's through direct financial support, or fellowships or their various labs where they provide vital support to researchers and technologists to advance Internet Freedom. Virtually all major VPN/Proxy providers take advantage of the work of this community. For example, one of the things we do at Kandoo, is researching the ways Iranian gov implements censorship, and without OTF it's going to be very difficult to sustain that work.

This is perhaps one of the greatest gifts the new CEO of USAGM could give to the oppressive regimes around the world, as it would make it extremely more difficult for the civil society to protect the users and the free flow of information in some of the most hostile environments.

Monsur_Ausuhnom23 karma

Does there need to be significant revision of laws to prevent repression of internet freedom? Are there further laws that will prevent internet surveillance or things that need to be definitely regulated?

NoNotReallyXee13 karma

The internet is a bit like space in the sense that no one country owns it or can make laws to prevent the repression of internet freedoms. So laws are not exactly the best at regulating surveillance. The existing laws have not stopped governments and corporations from selling surveillance technology to repressive regimes who target human rights defenders. Hacking Team and/or NSO quickly come to mind. What we can do is fund tools that allow people to circumvent censorship, and that is what OTF has done over the years.

mrphs17 karma

To piggy back on Xeenarh's answer, the internet is being regulated by open standards that are defined, challenged, tested, and implemented by public working groups such as the ones you can find on Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)'s website. You can read about the process here and join the conversation. This is yet another good example of how we all benefit from open collaboration in tech.

kicker795521 karma

So you are asking for support because if a right winger gets appointed, literally means internet freedom is literally dead.

What are your feelings on th recent ban wave here on reddit? Or speech should only be protected if it s the right speech?

n8fr84 karma

I'll refer your first question to an existing response from another comment... essentially OTF has always had bi-partisan support, and this isn't about right or left. It is about the funding for the program itself being threatened, redirected and no longer available to product the impactful results you can see here: https://www.opentech.fund/results/impacts-and-outcomes/

elliam2 karma

Are you worried about this impact data ( or any other data ) being wiped from the opentech web site? It seems reasonable to assume that a change in direction is going to be reflected in changing the message as well as changing where the finding goes.

mrphs4 karma

Isn't it great that we have public interest organizations like Internet Archive for situations like this?

tropbien8 karma

Why is the US government so involved with internet freedom? I thought a lot of these tools are open source, free?

jilliancatyork8 karma

The Obama administration made Internet freedom part of its foreign policy agenda about ten years ago. Here's a speech that then-Secretary of State Clinton gave introducing the policy: https://2009-2017.state.gov/secretary/20092013clinton/rm/2010/01/135519.htm

Although Internet freedom projects are funded through State as well, OTF is different: It made funding open source tools (and requiring security audits of those tools) a priority from the beginning.

mrphs5 karma

It's also worth to mention OTF's model in spending tax payer's money is exemplary. They are an independent organization with advisory councils that are formed by the members of the community. IMO what's important is that throughout the years, OTF has worked with those who are impacted by its programs to create a reasonably transparent and accountable system to fund open technologies that are available to general public. Look at the OTF annual budget (average ~$15mil) and its impact on the Internet Freedom vs other not-so-transparent models other gov funded entities with much larger budget of ~$50-70 mil. It is important to remember if we're using public money, the code should also be released under public domain.

All that being said, there's no need that the US Gov should be the main entity funding this kind of work. These events show us it is vital to not only diversify the funding sources for both OTF and generally the Internet Freedom community, we should also make sure those who are on the receiving end of these programs, have a say in how the money is being spent.

MouthTypo2 karma

Can you say more about what the private orgs would be building? I read somewhere that the Trump org wants “back doors” built into foundational technologies so that law enforcement agencies can essentially spy on whoever they want whenever they want. Is that part of the motivation here?

(I should add for anyone reading that back doors, once they exist, can be used by anyone. I personally don’t trust law enforcement to use such tech wisely, but even if you do, you should still be scared as heck of their existence.)

Also, thanks for the work you do! I’ve been donating to the EFF for years. You fight the good fight.

n8fr81 karma

The issue of adding back doors to encryption protocols is an important issue. The private orgs, meaning the proxy / VPN tools being considered for taking funding from OTF in order to "Break the Great Firewall", are all using a single-hop proxy strategy running through centralized servers. They are essentially not that different from a typical commercial VPN. This means they can monitor who is connecting, what sites their users are going to, and also filter sites they can consider unsavory. Ultimately, the private org approach to internet freedom is to have the users give up privacy in order to gain access to banned sites and services. This is obviously quite different from the kind of privacy provided by an OTF supported tools like Signal, Tor or Wireguard.

mrphs2 karma

It's also worth to mention the underlying technology used by most of these apps have been funded by OTF. The beauty of Free and Open Source Software is that any community can take the code and deploy their own VPN or proxy, or integrate it in their own apps to have full control over their own data. This is very important as we need to avoid centralizing the traffic of sensitive users. No one app or company should have access to everyone's traffic.

HumanistNinja1 karma

Any updates from the lawsuit and the Congress pressure reported in this article?

mrphs3 karma

While we're in no position to comment on the lawsuit, I can tell you that if you reside in the US, you can reach out to your congress people and ask them to voice their concern in support of OTF. You can find more information about how to help the campaign on this page https://saveinternetfreedom.tech/information/how-to-help/. Scroll down to "Contact your Members of Congress" where you have many options to find and reach out to your congressperson. There are templates/scripts available for email/phone, if you need some inspiration :)

mrphs-5 karma

Alright folks! It's been a fun chat. Thanks for all the comments, questions, upvotes and awards! We're going to wrap this AMA but if you still have questions, feel free to ask them or continue the conversation, and we'll try to get back to you as soon as we can. Peace ✌🏽