Update 7/2: We have edited this post to add information about OTF's Localization Lab.
Keeping the internet open, free, and secure requires eternal vigilance and the constant cooperation of freedom defenders all over the web and the world. Over the past eight years, the Open Technology Fund (OTF) has fostered a global community and provided support—both monetary and in-kind—to more than four hundred projects that seek to combat censorship and repressive surveillance, enabling more than two billion people in over 60 countries to more safely access the open Internet and advocate for democracy.
OTF has earned trust over the years through its open source ethos, transparency, and a commitment to independence from its funder, the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which receives its funding through Congressional appropriations.
In the past week, USAGM has removed OTF’s leadership and independent expert board, prompting a number of organizations and individuals to call into question OTF’s ability to continue its work and maintain trust among the various communities it serves. USAGM’s new leadership has been lobbied to redirect funding for OTF’s open source projects to a new set of closed-source tools, leaving many well-established tools in the lurch.
Why OTF Matters
EFF has maintained a strong relationship with OTF since its inception. Several of our staff members serve or have served on its Advisory Council, and OTF’s annual summits have provided crucial links between EFF and the international democracy tech community. OTF’s support has been vital to the development of EFF’s software projects and policy initiatives. Guidance and funding from OTF have been foundational to Certbot, helping the operators of tens of millions of websites use EFF’s tool to generate and install Let’s Encrypt certificates. The OTF-sponsored fellowship for Wafa Ben-Hassine produced impactful research and policy analysis about how Arab governments repress online speech. OTF's Localization Lab has provided translations for Surveillance Self-Defense and HTTPS Everywhere, helping bring EFF's work to a global audience.
OTF’s funding is focused on tools to help individuals living under repressive governments. For example, OTF-funded circumvention technologies including Lantern and Wireguard are widely used by people around the world. OTF also incubated and assisted in the initial development of the Signal Protocol, the encryption back-end used by both Signal and WhatsApp. By sponsoring Let’s Encrypt’s implementation of multi-perspective validation, OTF helped protect the 227 million sites using Let’s Encrypt from BGP attacks, a favorite technique of nation-states that hijack websites for censorship and propaganda purposes.
While these tools are designed for users living under repressive governments, they are used by individuals and groups all over the world, and benefit movements as diverse as Hong Kong’s Democracy movement, the movement for Black lives, and LGBTQ+ rights defenders.
OTF requires public, verifiable security audits for all of its open-source software grantees. These audits greatly reduce risk for the vulnerable people who use OTF-funded technology. Perhaps more importantly, they are a necessary step in creating trust between US-funded software and foreign activists in repressive regimes. Without that trust, it is difficult to ask people to risk their lives on OTF’s work.
Help Us #SaveInternetFreedom
It is not just OTF that is under threat, but the entire ecosystem of open source, secure technologies—and the global community that builds those tools. We urge you to join EFF and more than 400 other organizations in signing the open letter, which asks members of Congress to:
- Require USAGM to honor existing FY2019 and FY2020 spending plans to support the Open Technology Fund;
- Require all U.S.-Government internet freedom funds to be awarded via an open, fair, competitive, and evidence-based decision process;
- Require all internet freedom technologies supported with US-Government funds to remain fully open-source in perpetuity;
- Require regular security audits for all internet freedom technologies supported with US-Government funds; and
- Pass the Open Technology Fund Authorization Act.
EFF is proud to join the voices of hundreds of organizations and individuals across the globe calling on USAGM and OTF’s board to recommit to the value of open source technology, robust security audits, and support for global Internet freedom. These core values—which have been a mainstay of OTF's philanthropy—are vital to uplifting the voices of billions of technology users facing repression all over the world.