The Open Technology Fund (OTF) has launched the Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) that cultivates research, outputs, and creative collaboration on topics related to repressive Internet censorship and surveillance.
The Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) supports examination into how governments in countries, regions, or areas of OTF’s core focus are restricting the free flow of information, cutting access to the open Internet, and implementing censorship mechanisms, thereby threatening the ability of global citizens to exercise basic human rights and democracy; work focused on mitigation of such threats is also supported.
Their goal is to support efforts that aim to advance Internet freedom in the world’s most repressive environments. Ideally, this means they support individuals who are:
- Working on projects that will directly benefit those living in the world’s most oppressive censorship and surveillance environments; with repressive internet controls.
- Located in or have direct experience with communities in the Global South;
- Come from or have direct experience with repressive censorship and surveillance environments;
- Come from or have direct experience with underrepresented and/or targeted minority groups, including those with a focus on human rights, LGBT, journalism, media, or activism.
Potential Areas of Focus
- Development and refinement of tools and techniques to continuously monitor Internet interference on a global scale
- Investigation of information controls, security, and privacy in popular applications such as search engines, social media platforms, and instant messaging applications
- Leveraging open data to analyze the types of information controls being carried out and what they are targeting
- Testing creative methods and new protocols for censorship circumvention and analyzing network interference measures including all forms of Internet filtering.
- Examination of the impact of Internet censorship and use of circumvention tools
- Experimental techniques to limit pro-government manipulation of online discussions
- Researching emerging (state-sponsored) surveillance patterns and analysis of targeted digital threats against civil society organizations or human rights defenders, such as denial of service attacks, social engineering and phishing attacks such as malware.
- Studying the roles of machine learning and artificial intelligence in digital surveillance practices in repressive environments
- Investigating how the traits of quantum computing implicate the realm of Internet freedom and exploring opportunities to employ this leap in computing power to evade censorship.
- Other novel ideas and approaches relating to the study of global and regional information controls
- Three, six, nine or twelve month fellowships available
- Usually offered to postdoctoral, doctoral students, and experienced researchers with demonstrated ability and expertise
- Monthly stipend of $7,000 USD
- Travel stipend of $1,250 to $5,000 USD, depending on the fellowship length
- Equipment stipend of $1,250 to $5,000 USD, depending on the fellowship length
- Projects should exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to the mission of promoting freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online. Objectives should be ambitious, yet measurable and achievable with activities and milestones listed monthly. The overall project goals should extend beyond traditional audiences.
- For the duration of fellowships, the fellow will be expected to work full time with their host organization.
- Fellowship projects are welcome to undertake broader research projects around surveillance and censorship.
- Any individual based in the United States will need to acquire the appropriate work authorization. For instance, if a student with an I-20 visa intends to carry out their project in the United States, they will need to apply to use Curricular Practical Training for their fellowship.
Things to Avoid
- A focus on countries with minimal information controls
- Working with a host organization you are already affiliated with
- Testing of end user connections that violate established ethical principles
- OTF fellowship contracts are 3, 6, 9 or 12 months in duration. From time to time OTF may consider applications to extend existing contracts beyond the initial project period. Any such decision will be subject to availability of funds, satisfactory progress of the applicants, and a determination that continued funding would be in the best interest of program priorities.
- Individuals of all ages irrespective of nationality, residency, creed, gender, or other factors, with the exception that OTF is not able to support applicants within countries that the United States has trade restrictions or export sanctions as determined by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
- Individuals who demonstrate skill and ability to assist in efforts to overcome information controls.
- Individuals who demonstrate a desire to grow their knowledge and skills through a collaborative, cross-discipline approach.
- Individuals who demonstrate a commitment to reach audiences outside the research community.
- They welcome applications from students at any level and those unassociated with any academic institution who have an interesting and relevant project idea.
- Doctoral students are not required to suspend their studies if the fellowship project is in line with their studies. But the fellowship does require that the equivalent of a full time effort be carried out over the course of the fellowship.
- OTF awards are performance-based contracts between OTF and the applicant with payment occurring through a monthly stipend subject to approval each month by the OTF Program Manager and supporting host organization. OTF reserves the right to award less or more than the funds described under such circumstances as it may deem to be in the best interest of the program priorities.
- Typically, ICFP fellows have experience in fields such as computer science, engineering, information security research, software development, social sciences, law, and data visualization, among others. Information controls is a cross-disciplinary field, so applications are open to people from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines and can include students and junior to mid-career practitioners.
Monitoring & Evaluation
- OTF views monitoring and evaluation as a way to learn from their fellows and share lessons learned with future applicants. This improves the collective knowledge of the community and thus contributes to its sustainability.
- Because payment is dispersed at monthly intervals upon completion of stated contractual goals, successful applicants can expect regular contact with both their host organization and OTF project manager. Monitoring consists of compulsory monthly reports and phone, email, or in-person discussions and consultations as needed. Fellows are required to submit brief monthly updates about their work to OTF, their host organization, and the OTF community. This allows others to review and comment on the ICFP community’s work, encouraging collaboration.
- The adviser or responsible person at the host organization, in turn, provides a “traffic light” report to OTF evaluating their fellow’s progress. This report, detailed below, is the basis upon which stipend payments are released to fellows on a monthly basis.
- A “green light” from the host organization signals that the fellow is on track and funds can be released. A “yellow light” from the host organization signals that while funds should be released, there are some concerns that need to be flagged to OTF. A “red light” from the host organization signals that progress has been interrupted and an intervention is required. The host organization recommends “stop payment” and OTF, the host organization, and the fellows discuss possible remedial steps to either get back on track or terminate the fellowship.
For more information, visit OTF.