OTF Information Controls Fellowship: Internet freedom, Democracy and Human Rights

The ICFP fellowship 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 and mitigation of these threats.

The program offers two tiers of fellowships:

Senior Fellows

A six month or one year fellowship usually offered to experienced researchers many times with postdoctoral or doctoral students and with demonstrated ability and expertise. Fellows are given a monthly stipend of $4,200 USD per month, as well as a travel stipend of $2,500 or $5,000 USD depending on the length.

Seasonal Fellows

A three month fellowship usually offered to students and/or junior practitioners. Seasonal fellows are awarded monthly stipends of $2,500.

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.

Applicants can propose to work with the organization of their choice this includes both the organizations listed below and those not listed. Regardless, justification will need to be provided in the application. While fellows are ideally able to work locally within their host organization, applicants who wish to work remotely will also be considered.

The ICFP fellowship program offers fellows the freedom to pursue their own specialized project while maintaining a sense of community, open communication, and feedback between the other fellows as well as the broader OTF community. The group has also convened annually at the Citizen Lab Summer Institute, offering ICFP fellows a chance to network and further collaborate.

Core issues

  • Access to the Internet, including tools to circumvent website blocks, connection blackouts, and widespread censorship
  • Awareness of access, privacy, or security threats and protective measures, including how-to guides, instructional apps, data collection platforms, and other efforts that increase the efficacy of internet freedom tools;
  • Privacy enhancement, including the ability to be free from repressive observation and the option to be anonymous when accessing the internet
  • Security from danger or threat when accessing the internet, including encryption tools

Addressed problems

  • Restrictive Internet filtering by technical methods (IP blocking, DNS filtering, TCP RST, DPI, etc.)
  • Blocking, filtering, or modification of political, social, and/or religious content (including apps)
  • Technical attacks against government critics, journalists, and/or human rights organizations (Cyberattacks)
  • Localized or nationwide communications shut down or throttling (Blackouts)
  • Pro-government manipulation of online discussions (propaganda, imitation content, and/or sockpuppets)
  • Repressive surveillance or monitoring of communication
  • Policies, laws, or directives that increase surveillance, censorship, and punishment

Thought starters

Fellowships are OTF initiatives that support individuals who advance the goals of Internet freedom by creating new knowledge. The Information Controls Fellowship in particular, digs into the ways in which repressive governments restrict the free flow of information, debilitate the open internet, and threaten human rights and democracy.

Good ideas

  • Development and refinement of tools and techniques to continuously monitor internet interference on a global scale
  • Investigating information controls, security, and privacy in a range of popular applications including search engines, social media platforms, and instant messaging clients
  • Testing creative methods of censorship circumvention
  • Examination of the impact of internet censorship and use of circumvention tools
  • Exploring the impacts of Internet censorship and use of circumvention tools
  • Experimental techniques to limit pro-government manipulation of online discussions
  • Analysis of targeted threats against civil society organizations, including Internet filtering, denial of service attacks, and targeted malware
  • Other novel ideas and approaches relating to the study of global and regional information controls

Bad ideas

  • A focus on countries with minimal information controls
  • Working with a host organization you are already affiliated with
  • Security reviews of software limited to technical audiences
  • Projects better suited for the Digital Integrity Fellowship Program
  • Testing of end user connections that violate established ethical principles
  • Network or cryptographic protocols better suited for the Core Infrastructure Initiative

Review and selection process

Important considerations

  • 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 both senior and seasonal fellowships, the fellow will be expected to work full time with their host organization.
  • Before completing a submission, we strongly encourage you to review our Terms of Service.

Host institutions

  • The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University (Rebecca Tabasky)
  • Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto (Ron Deibert)
  • Computer Security Lab, Rice University (Dan Wallach)
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation (Peter Eckersley)
  • International Computer Science Institute, University of California, Berkeley (Prof. Vern Paxson)
  • Computer Science Department and Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP), Princeton University (Nick Feamster)
  • Program on Liberation Technology, Stanford University (Vivek Srinivasan)
  • Ranking Digital Rights, New America Foundation (Rebecca MacKinnon)
  • Security and Privacy Lab, Princeton University (Prateek Mittal)
  • University of Washington (Arvind Krishnamurthy)
  • University of New Mexico, Department of Computer Science (Jed Crandall)
  • University of Massachusetts — Amherst, College of Information and Computer Sciences (Phillipa Gill)
  • Oxford Internet Institute (Joss Wright)
  • Open Technology Fund
  • Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law, Strathmore University Law School (Isaac Rutenberg)
Application date
19 Mar 2017
Senior: 6 months or 1 year; seasonal: 3 months
Africa Kenya America Canada United States Mid-Atlantic New England Pacific South West Europe United Kingdom
Social sciences Communication Sciences Law Political science Sociology Other Computer science
Required post-doc experience: 
between 0 and 99 years
Award granted
Senior: US$ 4.200/month + travel funds; seasonal: US$ 2.500/month