Strengthen the Open Technology Fund to Counter Digital Authoritarianism
By Dan Lips and Deepesh Chaudhari
On May 14, the foreign ministers of the G7 issued a statement condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and reiterating the importance of internet freedom. The statement read, in part, that the G7 nations would remain committed to promoting “the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression and access to reliable information from free, pluralistic and independent media, notably on the war and its consequences for the world.”
In contrast, Russian president Vladimir Putin recently signed a law prohibiting the publishing or broadcasting of “false information” about the invasion, a move to further crack down on independent media in Russia.
For the United States, this latest threat to free expression highlights the importance of the nation’s longstanding, bipartisan goal to advance global internet freedom. In 2022, members of Congress have an opportunity to fund needed investments in freedom-advancing technologies by strengthening the Open Technology Fund (OTF).
Created ten years ago, the OTF is an independent, non-profit organization funded by the State Department’s U.S. Agency for Global Media. Its mission is “advancing global Internet freedom” by supporting projects “focused on counteracting repressive censorship and surveillance, enabling citizens worldwide to exercise their fundamental human rights online.”
The Open Technology Fund receives limited funding compared to other federal government programs. In March 2022, Congress passed an Omnibus appropriations bill that appropriated $27 million for OTF for FY2022. The State Department reports that OTF’s budget was just $20 million in FY2021. Between 2012 and 2020, the Open Technology Fund received approximately $90 million in government funding in total.