Campus & Community

MacArthur Foundation awards $3 million to Berkman Center, OpenNet Initiative

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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 Harvard Law School (HLS) and the universities of Toronto, Cambridge, and Oxford – has produced reports on state-mandated filtering in 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 grant 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 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.

“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,” said John Palfrey, clinical professor of law and the Berkman Center’s executive director. “This grant will put much more information about filtering in the hands of policymakers, 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.

Professors Palfrey, Zittrain, 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.