Citizen Lab

Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto

The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, Canada. Founded and directed by Professor Ronald Deibert, the Citizen Lab studies information controls—such as network surveillance and content filtering—that impact the openness and security of the Internet and that pose threats to human rights. The Citizen Lab collaborates with research centres, organizations, and individuals around the world, and uses a "mixed methods" approach, which combines technical interrogation and analysis with intensive field research, qualitative social science, and legal and policy analysis methods.

The Citizen Lab was a founding partner of the OpenNet Initiative (2002-2013) and the Information Warfare Monitor (2002-2012) projects. The Citizen Lab also developed the original design of the Psiphon censorship circumvention software, which was spun out of the Lab into a private Canadian corporation (Psiphon Inc.) in 2008.

The Citizen Lab’s research outputs have made global news headlines around the world, including front page exclusives in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Globe and Mail. In Tracking Ghostnet (2009) researchers uncovered a suspected cyber espionage network of over 1,295 infected hosts in 103 countries, a high percentage of which are high-value targets, including ministries of foreign affairs, embassies, international organizations, news media, and NGOs. This seminal study was one of the first public reports to reveal a cyber espionage network that targeted civil society and government targets around the world. In Shadows in the Cloud (2010), researchers document a complex ecosystem of cyber espionage that systematically compromised government, business, academic, and other computer network systems in India, the Offices of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the United Nations, and several other countries.

The Citizen Lab has won a number of awards for its work. The Citizen Lab is the first Canadian institution to win the MacArthur Foundation’s MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions (2014) and the only Canadian institution to receive a “New Digital Age” Grant (2014) from Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Past awards include the Canadian Library Association's Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada Award (2013), the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom’s Press Freedom Award (2011), and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression’s Vox Libera Award (2010).


The Citizen Lab is independent of government or corporate interests. Financial support for the Citizen Lab has come from the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, and The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation. The Citizen Lab has received donations of software and support from Palantir Technologies, VirusTotal, and Oculus Info Inc.

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