Its Encryption Innovations Also Protect the Fourth Amendment at Home.
The Open Technology Fund (OTF), which supports internet freedom worldwide, has announced it is diving into its emergency Rapid Response fund to prioritize the development of digital assistance for at-risk internet users in Ukraine. OTF is also a grantee of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which stands to benefit by the passage of a massive increase in support for Ukraine.
Bipartisan support continues to build on Capitol Hill for deepening America’s involvement in world media. It is in the interests of democracy to keep the lines of communication open between Ukrainians trying to protect each other and their nation. It is also in the interests of democracy to penetrate Putin’s iron wall of disinformation to deliver real news to the Russian people.
“As people organize, unite, and inform their fellow citizens with real time uncensored information, we must stand with them by reinforcing the resources available to facilitate their efforts,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Regimes across the globe are weaponizing the internet to cut off access to information,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) “The Russian government has begun intensifying its censorship operations to control its population and suppress the truth.”
As Putin removes the last independent voices inside Russia from the airwaves and social media, these two senators are pressing their bipartisan legislation to combat his and other authoritarian and repressive regimes. They believe we can do this by simply helping people around the world defy their rulers to access the internet and communicate securely.
OTF is the perfect vehicle for such efforts. Spun out of a Radio Free Asia project, OTF has become a stand-alone, non-profit corporation that was instrumental in developing the encrypted instant messaging service Signal. More than 2 billion users internet users rely on OTF-supported technology. More than two-thirds of all mobile users globally have technology on their device incubated by OTF’s funding and labs. As OTF technology evolves, so do the techniques of repressive regimes, from Moscow to Beijing. OTF Labs responds by continually developing and auditing technologies and internet freedom tools adapted for more than 200 languages. As OTF works to further global access to encrypted services, we should also remember its value at home in the form of encrypted communications.
When former Attorney General William Barr spoke about encryption, he often characterized it as a “safe haven for predators and terrorists.” The heart-rending events of the last few weeks show us that encryption is a safe haven for Ukrainian defenders, for brave Russian journalists and dissidents, for Hong Kong democracy protestors in the crosshairs of the Chinese surveillance state. It is a safe haven for journalists investigating the cartels in Mexico … for women’s rights activists in countries where women are second-class citizens … for democracy champions in Venezuela.
In the United States, encryption is a safe haven for women from abusive relationships, and for children from would-be stalkers. It is a reminder to our own government that the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution requires a probable cause warrant before it can scrutinize our private communications. In the months to come, as OTF proves its worth in Ukraine and Russia, we should also remember to celebrate OTF’s value at home.