Researchers Join Forces to Expose Net Censorship

April 26, 2004

An international team of academics from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Toronto has begun monitoring worldwide Internet censorship and surveillance.

"The Open Net Initiative represents a new approach to university-based research," says Cambridge University's Rafal Rohozinski. "We fuse cutting-edge intelligence-derived techniques with a networked model of analysis that includes some of the brightest minds in this field - we are striving to become the eyes and ears on digital censorship worldwide."

The Open Net Initiative (ONI) was formed in 2004 with support from the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute and represents a partnership among groups at three leading global universities: Cambridge, Harvard, and Toronto. As Harvard's Jonathan Zittrain explains, "The aim of the ONI is to excavate, analyze, and report censorship and surveillance practices in a rigorous, ongoing fashion. In order to fully understand the Internet's evolution, we must be able to map it empirically."

The ONI employs a unique interdisciplinary methodology that combines information derived from a global network of local researchers with advanced technical network probes to create a detailed picture of what goes on beneath the surface of the Internet.

As University of Toronto's Ronald Deibert explains, some techniques of interrogation have been deliberately borrowed from the world of intelligence. "The tools we employ to probe the subterranean layers of the Internet are not necessarily new," says Deibert. "The combination of electronic surveillance and human-based information gathering has long been the hallmark of state intelligence practices. What we are doing with the ONI is taking these tools and turning them inside-out, so to speak, focusing them back on the 'watchers' to measure their practices against general principles of human rights, and open the lid on the World Wide Web."

Additional funding for ther Berkman Center's work on the initiative comes from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and other sources, while the work of the Citizen Lab and Advanced Network Research Group is supported by the Ford Foundation.

ONI research reports, bulletins, and advisories will be released periodically and can be found on the ONI website


Ron Deibert, Director, Citizen Lab, Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, r.deibert AT

Jonathan Zittrain and John Palfrey, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School, Harvard University, zittrain AT and jpalfrey AT

Rafal Rohozinski, Director, Advanced Network Research Group, Cambridge Security Programme, University of Cambridge, rar20 AT

Last updated

February 20, 2008