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The Open Technology Fund: Strengthening U.S. Capacity to Counter Digital Authoritarianism

May 24, 2022

Authoritarian governments, including Russia and the People's Republic of China, use information technology to repress, surveille, and manipulate domestic and foreign populations. It is more important than ever for us to present an affirmative vision of the digital world.Promoting internet freedom around the world has been a longstanding bipartisan national security priority in the United States. In a new Lincoln Policy report, The Open Technology Fund: Strengthening U.S. Capacity to Counter Digital Authoritarianism, Dan Lips and Deepesh Chaudhari analyze one of the U.S. government's most promising initiatives to advance global freedom. Since 2012, the Open Technology Fund (OTF), a non-profit organization supported by the U.S. Agency for Global Media, has incubated censorship-circumvention technologies that promote free speech and internet freedom.Over the past decade, OTF's projects have created some of the widest-used security tools on the planet, utilized by billions of people. They include Signal, a secure messaging and communications application widely used around the globe to protect the integrity of personal communications.But the OTF could easily expand its research and impact. OTF has vetted more than 3,500 requests for support totaling more than $450 million. This is 400 percent more than OTF's funding capacity over that period.In FY2022, the Open Technology Fund is slated to receive $27 million from Congress. Leveraging growing bipartisan support, Congress should strengthen the OTF to leverage its incredibly successful work by increasing its appropriations, thus bolstering Internet freedom, security, and freedom of speech at a time of growing digital authoritarianism.

Translating Abortion Disinformation: The Spanish-Language Anti-Choice Landscape

May 18, 2022

NARAL Pro-Choice America's research team is committed to exposing the anti-choice movement's use of disinformation to attack abortion access and reproductive freedom. In 2021, we began a long-term research project aiming to expand our understanding of how anti-choice disinformation disseminates online in Spanish-language spaces and how it could impact Spanish-speaking communities in the United States.Our research sought to identify influential Spanish-language activists and Facebook pages that oppose abortion and spread disinformation and determine what overlap exists between English-language and Spanish-language anti-choice groups, influencers, and messages. We also wanted to understand more about social media engagement with Spanishlanguage news coverage of abortion and expose what messages anti-choice groups and activists advertised to Spanish speakers in the United States, particularly in a political context.As we approach the 2022 midterm elections and a U.S. Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization with the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade and radically shift the landscape of abortion access across the United States, it is more important than ever to combat anti-choice messages and disinformation targeting Spanishspeaking communities.

State of Digital Equity: Lessons from survey data and focus groups

May 12, 2022

In late 2020, EveryoneOn undertook a national survey to understand the digital divide during the pandemic. Even at a time of such uncertainty, it was important to look at broadband adoption and digital equity in a deeper way, since investments in digital inclusion were and would continue to be necessary as COVID widened the digital gap, leaving students, seniors and families offline. In the absence of recent research, EveryoneOn, in partnership with the Ballmer Group and Microsoft surveyed income insecure households (less than $50,000 a year) as well as conducted focus groups with individuals and digital inclusion practitioners. Our collective goal was to understand the persistent barriers to adoption and use the findings to inform policies and initiatives that foster digital equity. At the Ballmer Group, addressing barriers to economic mobility for children and families is a priority. When children do not have access to the tools necessary to participate and succeed in school, that is a barrier to economic mobility and resiliency. This is why it is important to understand what is keeping K-12 households unconnected or under connected. We learned in the first report that families cannot afford anything over $100 for a computer, reducing their education and economic opportunities.For Microsoft, the pursuit of racial equity entails addressing digital inequities that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority communities. Lack of access to high-speed and affordable internet service, robust devices and digital skilling opportunities have compounding effects on households, communities and our society. The Microsoft Airband Initiative intends to support cross-sector efforts to address barriers to digital equity.The findings in this third and final report reveal that equity must be at the center of digital inclusion efforts. We must invite diverse leaders, advocates and community anchor organizations to the table not only to provide a clear picture of digital inclusion, but to give them decision-making power about where and how funds should be invested. The recent passage of the Infrastructure and Investments Jobs Act and launch of the Affordable Connectivity Program provide a historic opportunity to create a more equitable and inclusive approach to digital equity. Rulemakings will influence what state and local funding efforts will look like, which has been instrumental for driving broadband adoption. On page 11 of this report, we make recommendations to help inform state and local leaders how to allocate federal funds they secure. The research makes it clear that policy change and investments must be made quickly if we are to prevent sustained educational, economic and social disparities caused by digital inequity. We are committed to ensuring digital equity for all. Will you join us?

Alt-Finance for Alt-Tech: Monetizing the Insurrection Online Before and After January 6

May 5, 2022

This brief maps the financial tools and techniques employed by alt-tech industry leaders like Gab's CEO Andrew Torba, high-profile members of the Proud Boys, and others implicated in the January 6 Capitol attack and the far-right's assault on American democratic institutions. For many in this milieu, Amazon's decision to pull hosting for Parler following the Capitol attack was a clarion call to the need for a parallel web, and prominent players have since flocked to the task of building it. 

Examining Gaps in Digital Inclusion as States Develop Their Digital Equity Plans

May 4, 2022

The passage of the Digital Equity Act of 2021, part of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, has added new urgency to state-level efforts to understand digital inclusion and equity gaps among their residents. This year, any state seeking funding through this $2.75 billion federal investment will be required to develop a State Digital Equity Plan, which outlines its approach to addressing these gaps. A central component of each State Digital Equity Plan will be an analysis of the extent to which certain "covered individuals" suffer from gaps in digital inclusion – including access to broadband services, digital devices, and digital literacy skills. This fact sheet provides data to inform policymakers and advocates of the gaps in access to broadband internet among various covered individuals, with the goal to help identify remedies and build a more inclusive, equitable digital future. 

From Broken Revenue Models to Embracing an “Open” Ethos

April 8, 2022

Journalism is a form of public service, critical to all of us. Unfettered access to verified information is essential for a healthy information ecosystem – essential for democracy. Yet, journalists face threats to their physical safety and online wellbeing, broken revenue models, the closures of local news outlets, and declining trust among readers. Misinformation and disinformation campaigns in the media challenge collective notions of ground truth. They also challenge the bedrock and meaning of an open internet.Now is a critical time to support journalists in their efforts to provide verified information, investigate our shared challenges, and bring essential health, environmental, and political facts to everyone. While Creative Commons (CC) cannot address many of the challenges journalists face, we believe that principles and practices of an open internet can help journalists in some of their public interest work. From crowdsourcing information on open source platforms to using CC licenses to increase access to a particular story–applying open internet practices can help free the flow of critical information to empower journalists and citizens around the world. Before engaging, we needed to understand more about journalists' challenges.In this vein, we initiated the Ground Truth in Open Internet project to better understand journalists' needs through global survey work, focus groups, Q&A discussions and training with journalists, activists and nonprofit news sources. Below, we share methodology and findings from our research and engagement. We learned that journalists around the world face an uncertain future, as they transition away from an old model of funding journalism and face unprecedented challenges. Journalists voiced a need for training and support to harness open internet practices, but such effort must be balanced with new, working revenue models. Most news organizations' current lack of a business model allowing for (1) open access to content and (2) stability and security for content producers obstructs quality journalism. More work is needed to demonstrate how quality journalism can be funded, while keeping it accessible and open to people around the world.

Stories from the Frontier: Breakthroughs, Challenges, and Recommendations from the First Five Years of Open 990 Data

April 6, 2022

Open data projects have been in existence for decades, especially as the amount of data stored on computers throughout the world has skyrocketed. Accessibility to that data is at the heart of these efforts, as public and private entities work to make data freely available and useful to the public. Also critical is the role that freely available data in general -- and public or government data in particular — play in accountability and transparency in government, as well as increasing both public participation and public awareness. As one interviewee noted, "Data makes it clear that the earth rotates around the sun — not the sun around the earth. Data can lay plain the places where our worldview needs to change."The Open 990 Project of the Aspen Institute and its partners represents a giant leap forward, providing nonprofits a connected, data-informed future. After only five years, there are compelling examples available from individuals, nonprofits, and collaboratives alike of how the Open 990 Project is seeding and empowering change throughout the nonprofit sector. A large number of websites, projects, researchers, governments, and companies are now using IRS Forms 990, 990-EZ, and 990-PF data (hereafter, "990 data") to redesign how they work and how they engage with stakeholders.

Balancing End-to-End Encryption and Public Safety

April 4, 2022

Over the last decade, there has been a significant debate around end-to-end encryption (E2EE) and its implications for public safety. At the forefront of the discourse is a false dichotomy between protecting privacy and ensuring national security. At the extreme ends of this deeply polarised debate are two key arguments. On the privacy side, it is believed that governments and law enforcement agencies desire unrestrained exceptional access to E2EE communications to spy on their citizens. On the security side, it is maintained that obtaining lawful exceptional access is the only way to protect citizens and uphold national security. The debate has reached a deadlock, with both sides perpetuating zero-sum views.However, experts are calling for a more nuanced conversation about possible solutions to the criminal use of E2EE services. It is vital that a range of views are considered in order to identify the key issues and inform a more productive debate. Through a review of the existing literature and insights from 22 semi-structured interviews, this paper balances the perspectives from a range of relevant stakeholders on the main elements of the E2EE debate and presents some key takeaways in an effort to move away from a crude privacy-versus-security binary.The paper presents the following key findings:There are clear and significant cyber security and privacy benefits to E2EE. Efforts to weaken or restrict its access would be a net loss for all.Criminal use of E2EE is a significant risk to public safety and solutions are vital. Yet, it should also be acknowledged that technology is an enabler of criminal and harmful activity and should not be treated as the root cause.The possibility of developing technical tools which could assist law enforcement investigations should not be categorically ruled out, but future proposals must be measured against the principles of proportionality, legality and technical robustness.Alternative options for law enforcement investigations such as metadata analysis and legal hacking should be considered, but they are not without their drawbacks. Legal hacking could be proportionate but its reliance on software vulnerabilities is largely at odds with strong cyber security. Metadata analysis is promising but more research is needed to determine the extent to which it can be used to aid law enforcement investigations.Industry do have a responsibility to make their platforms safer and free from criminal abuse. This requires implementation of safety-by-design principles and the provision of resources for better digital literacy and education. Governments must have oversight over the technical tools developed.A more nuanced debate must continue which actively moves away from zero-sum views of absolute privacy versus absolute security, and focuses more on how the risks to public safety can be reduced in proportion with the need to protect citizens' rights and freedoms.

The Unfreedom Monitor: A Methodology for Tracking Digital Authoritarianism Around the World

April 1, 2022

Digital communications technologies have been a powerful tool in the advancement of democratic governance, but in recent years there is concern that they are being used to undermine democracy as well. The Unfreedom Monitor, part of Global Voices' Advox project, aims to study and report on this growing phenomenon. This briefing document provides an overview of key developments in digital authoritarianism in a sample of 10 countries, while explaining the theoretical framework and methodology behind the project. The document also provides a basis for expanding this research to other countries so we can deepen our understanding of digital authoritarianism globally as well as its crucial implications for the future.

Owning the Conversation: Assessing Responses to Russian and Chinese Information Operations Around COVID-19

March 31, 2022

The crisis around COVID-19 and the resulting "infodemic" has been exploited by authoritarian regimes to spread propaganda and disinformation among populations around the world. The Russian Federation and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have used the pandemic to engage in information warfare, spread divisive content, advance conspiracy theories, and promote public health propaganda that undermines US and European efforts to fight the pandemic.In 2021, the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) published two reports, Information Bedlam: Russian and Chinese Information Operations During COVID-19 and Jabbed in the Back: Mapping Russian and Chinese Information Operations During COVID-19, comparing how the Kremlin and CCP have deployed information operations around the COVID-19 pandemic, virus origins, and efficacy of the vaccines to influence targeted populations globally, using the infodemic as a diplomatic and geopolitical weapon. The CCP mainly spread COVID-19 narratives to shape perceptions about the origins of the coronavirus and often push narratives to shun responsibility. Meanwhile, the Kremlin recycled existing narratives, pushing and amplifying them via validators and unsuspecting people in order to sow internal divisions and further exploit polarized views in the West about the efficacy of vaccines, treatments, origins of new variants, and impact to the population. While the world has learned about new COVID-19 variants, such as Omicron, China and Russia have evolved their tactics to spread COVID-19 disinformation and propaganda and further sow doubt and confuse the population about the pandemic.As Russia and China's tactics evolve, this policy brief examines whether Western institutions, including governments, digital platforms, and nongovernmental organizations, have been able to counter information warfare around this unprecedented crisis. This paper examines a broad range of initiatives and responses to counter COVID-19 disinformation coming from Russia and China, and to strengthen societal resilience more broadly. Because addressing this challenge requires a whole-of-society approach, this report highlights government, technology, and civil society interventions, both in Europe and in the US, identifying what works and where there are existing gaps.Of note, the interventions and related assessments presented here are based on currently available data. It is important to highlight that governments regularly pass new regulations and measures, and digital platforms continue to evolve their policy, product, and enforcement actions in response to COVID-19 disinformation.

Balancing Security, Access, and Privacy in Electronic Ballot Transmission

March 28, 2022

Trade-offs are inherent to election administration. Election officials and policymakers must regularly make decisions that restrict or expand voter access, detract or enhance election security, and reduce or enshrine voter privacy. These decisions ought to be simple: policymakers should prioritize expanding privacy, security, and access over restricting it.The electronic transmission of ballots is a direct embodiment of this conflict. Election officials and cybersecurity experts agree that electronic ballot return yields vulnerabilities that cannot be mitigated while preserving ballot privacy. Despite the vulnerabilities, electronic ballot transmission is crucial in ensuring that citizens unable to vote through traditional voting methods (such as mail or in-person voting) can still cast a ballot. Electronic ballot return is already being utilized to some extent in at least 31 states, particularly for military and overseas voters. Despite its fairly extensive adoption, there remains almost no real conversation among election experts about how to do it well and what policy options facilitate those practices.This paper strives to provide state lawmakers and election officials with thoughtful and proactive guidance on how to improve the administration of electronic ballot transmission. Rather than focus on the expansion or removal of electronic ballot transmission options, it outlines best practices that are informed by the learned experiences of election administrators, cybersecurity experts, and accessibility advocates.

Toward Ethical Technology: Framing Human Rights in the Future of Digital Innovation

March 28, 2022

The health of our American democracy depends upon equitable and safe digital spaces. This report examines and synthesizes intersectional movements to build better, more inclusive, and humane technologies. It also introduces a set of principles and inclusive frameworks to help platform, product, and policy leaders conceptualize intentional ethical technology that is responsive to the needs of impacted communities and shape meaningful interventions for systems-level shifts at the intersections of technology and human rights. Rights x Tech is a forum and community that explicitly explores the intersections of technology and power. It brings together technologists, policymakers, and movement leaders for dialogue and solution-building on emerging issues around human rights, products, and power.