CEO of Open Technology Fund Resigns After Closed-Source Lobbying Effort

The Open Technology Fund has previously given money to all sorts of internet freedom projects.
June 17, 2020, 8:06pm
China America
Image: Tab62/Shutterstock

The head of the Open Technology Fund (OTF) Corporation, which funds internet freedom projects and technologies, resigned Wednesday because she said she became aware of a lobbying effort that would push the group's funds toward closed-source tools rather than the open-source ones it has traditionally championed.

In a resignation email sent to an OTF mailing list, Libby Liu, the inaugural OTF CEO, mentioned that the Trump administration had recently sworn in Michael Peck as the new head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which is the OTF's grantor. She said that she learned of lobbying efforts to push money to closed-source tools.

"As you all know, OTF's flexible, transparent, and competitive funding model has been essential to our success in supporting the most secure and effective internet freedom technologies and innovative projects available," she wrote. "I have become aware of lobbying efforts to convince the new USAGM [U.S. Agency for Global Media] CEO to interfere with the current FY2020 OTF funding stream and redirect some of our resources to a few closed-source circumvention tools."

Do you have any other internal documents about this OTF issue? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on jfcox@jabber.ccc.de, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

Open source projects are generally ones that are open for anyone to scrutinize in case of security issues or contribute code to. Closed source projects are the opposite, with a smaller number of people typically able to inspect the source code.

Liu attached to the email a copy of a letter from Katrina Lantos Swett, the president of the Lantos Foundation, a human rights group. In it, she proposed immediately dedicating $20 million to funding censorship circumvention projects Freegate, Lantern, Psiphon, and Ultrasurf. These are apps or tools that let people browse the open internet from censored areas.

One source in the internet freedom community told Motherboard that OTF funding goes into many different projects. "Coded, deployed, research, paying for training from everything from journalists in Syria to activists in Russia. If it goes towards four projects in China it's kinda game over for a lot of this type of stuff." Motherboard granted the source anonymity to speak more candidly about the news.

OTF has funded a wide range of privacy and internet freedom projects, including chat program Ricochet, and a bug bounty for the Tor Browser.

Liu's resignation letter and the Lantos letter are embedded below.

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.

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