Save Open Tech Fund!

Save Internet Freedom: Support the Open Technology Fund Authorization Act!

On June 4th, Trump appointed Michael Pack the new CEO of the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM). The appointment of Pack was followed swiftly by the firing of the directors of: Open Technology Fund (OTF), Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Middle East Broadcasting. The media dubbed this the “Wednesday Night Massacre”. In this letter, we voice our strong support of OTF, in particular, as well as our support of the Open Technology Fund Authorization Act (H.R. 6621).

H.R. 6621 would establish OTF as an independent grantee of the USAGM to ensure OTF is able to continue advancing Internet freedom globally. Prior to her dismissal, Libby Liu (the former CEO and founder of OTF) had given her resignation due to severe lobbying attempts that aimed to reallocate money towards closed-source tools and prevent the passage of H.R. 6621. 

We have serious concerns that the USAGM seeks to dismantle OTF and their mission to provide hundreds of diverse grants for open-source technologies that support Internet freedom and autonomy, and replace it with a narrow funding stream funneled towards closed-source technologies. This would limit access, security and community oversight, putting the communities that rely on open-source, anti-censorship, and digital security tools at greater risk from authoritarian governments and other threats.

Why are open-source technologies important?

Open-source technology goes beyond eliminating barriers to access. It also allows for contributions by folks from all backgrounds and for the customization of tools that are severely needed but may not yet exist. As we prioritize the security of our most marginalized populations, we must maintain the understanding that privacy is a human right. Without our security and privacy protected, we foster not only enormous digital inequalities but international economic divides.

Currently, OTF is one of the main funders of Internet freedom and digital security worldwide. Since 2012, OTF has funded projects that have enabled over 2 billion people in over 60 countries to safely access the Internet, free from censorship and repressive surveillance. In fact, two-thirds of every mobile device in the world uses OTF-supported technology today.

Access to digital security tools is a harm reduction strategy!

Access to digital security tools is a harm reduction strategy that many sex workers rely on. As a collective of sex workers and accomplices, we understand first-hand how digital security tools and access to an Internet free from censorship can save lives.

Sex workers who work online have already suffered devastating losses over the last two years, thanks to the removal of Backpage and the introduction of FOSTA-SESTA. Now with the new EARN-IT Act on the horizon and the hostile takeover of OTF, we risk losing access to the harm reduction tools we depend on to communicate with each other and clients, to organize, and to push back against authoritarian regimes.

Sex workers have been some of the world’s pioneers when it comes to technology, and the internet is no different. Sex workers and activists, and the many of us that hold both identities, are often the first to notice changes in platforms, the first to be deplatformed, and the first to lose our access to safer working tools. Sex workers are under attack online, and this impacts access for everyone. Dismantling OTF will damage the secure communication ecosystem, which is increasingly relied upon by not just sex workers, but pro-democracy activists, journalists, businesses and policymakers as well.

The hostile takeover of OTF is in line with legislation passed by the Trump administration that erodes the rights of all Internet users around the world, and creates a propaganda machine for the Trump administration.

What open-source tech has OTF funded that sex workers rely on?

  • OTF funds technologies that help marginalized communities circumvent online censorship and increase their digital security.
  • OTF funds technologies that enhance privacy for at-risk users.
  • OTF supports publicly available tools for monitoring and overcoming Internet censorship.
  • OTF has supported TOR, which enables true private browsing without tracking, surveillance or censorship.
  • OTF has supported Signal, which enables cross-platform encrypted messaging.
  • OTF has supported DNSPrivacy.
  • OTF funds the Internet Freedom Festival, for which Hacking//Hustling led a 3-day sex worker workshop track.

Digital security is a form of community care. Together, we can keep each other safer. Join us and sign this letter to Congress asking them to support H.R. 6621, the Open Technology Fund Authorization Act.

With our sincere thanks,

Hacking//Hustling and Women of Sex Tech

More information can be found here!