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MacArthur Foundation Awards $3 Million to Berkman Center and ONI to Advance Global Internet Filtering Research

Cambridge, MA - The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded $3 million to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and its partners to advance their collaborative study of state-sponsored Internet filtering worldwide through the OpenNet Initiative.

In the past two years, the OpenNet Initiative, a joint project among the University of Toronto, Cambridge University, Oxford University, and Harvard Law School, has produced reports on state-mandated filtering in, among others, China, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Tunisia, and Iran. These reports combine data derived from technical means with extensive contextual research to map rich snapshots of the state of the Internet.

"The OpenNet Initiative provides extensive comparative research on Internet censorship policies and practices, which is of tremendous value to human rights groups, free speech advocates, and the general public," said Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation. "This information could also prove vital to the ongoing growth of global on-the-ground reporting by exposing Internet censorship."

This grant from the MacArthur Foundation will significantly improve and expand the OpenNet Initiative’s capacity to conduct its research, including the development of tools designed to paint a frequently-updated map of filtering. The OpenNet Initiative will produce four successive annual reports to illustrate differences among filtering regimes as they evolve, an open-access database for researchers at large to make use of the project’s findings, and an annual convening of experts on related topics.

"We have just begun to understand the ways in which people in different states around the world actually experience a different Internet from one another," said John Palfrey, Clinical Professor of Law and the Berkman Center’s Executive Director. "As new information technologies become increasingly important tools for political activism, the Internet has also become a battleground between those who seek to promote freedom of expression and those who aim to restrict it. This grant will put much more information about filtering in the hands of policy-makers, corporate leaders, activists, and citizens with a stake in the future of the Internet."

"The next few years promise greater Internet access around the world, coupled with increasingly sophisticated efforts by many governments to surveil their citizens’ online activities and restrict what they can see and do online," said Berkman Visiting Professor of Law Jonathan Zittrain, who co-authored the Berkman Center’s first studies of filtering in 2002. Zittrain is also Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University, where the Oxford Internet Institute will join the OpenNet Initiative. Members of the ONI research partnership have together honed testing and analytical methodologies for the study of Internet filtering since 2003.

Prof. John Palfrey, along with Prof. Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard Law School and Oxford University, Prof. Ron Deibert of the University of Toronto, and Rafal Rohozinski of Cambridge Security Programme (Cambridge University) are the OpenNet Initiative’s principal investigators and founders.

Statements from OpenNet Initiative Principals:

"Over the last several years, the OpenNet Initiative’s careful and intensive research has put a spotlight on Internet filtering and surveillance practices worldwide, raising serious questions about the transparency and accountability of states and corporations who participate in them,” said Ron Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab, Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto. “The MacArthur Foundation’s support for the Berkman Center and the OpenNet Initiative will help to sustain and broaden this research over the coming years."

"The contest between states, corporations, and individuals shaping the technology and rules that govern the Internet is at the core of the new geopolitical environment, and will define civil liberties in the coming decades," said Rafal Rohozinski, Director of the Advanced Network Research Group, Cambridge Security Programme (Cambridge University). "The MacArthur Foundation’s generous support to the OpenNet Initiative will ensure that the debate defining the appropriate balance between national security and civil liberties is supported by credible comparative research."

About the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School:

The Berkman Center is a research program founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development.

About the Open Net Initiative:

The ONI is a collaborative partnership between three leading academic institutions: the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, and the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme of Cambridge University. The OpenNet Initiative publishes its reports on the Internet.

About the MacArthur Foundation:

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is a private, independent grantmaking institution dedicated to helping groups and individuals foster lasting improvement in the human condition. Through the support it provides, the Foundation fosters the development of knowledge, nurtures individual creativity, helps strengthen institutions, helps improve public policy, and provides information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media.

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OpenNet Initiative

A collaborative project between the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto; the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; and…