Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

OpenNet Initiative Launched


OpenNet Initiative Launched February 2004

The number of states seeking to control the Internet has risen rapidly in the recent years. Mustering powerful and at times compelling arguments -- "securing intellectual property rights," "protecting national security", "preserving cultural norms and religious values," and "shielding children from pornography and exploitation" - extensive filtering and surveillance practices are being proposed and put in place to curb the perceived lawlessness of the medium. Although these practices occur mostly in non-democratic regimes, many democratic countries, led by the US, are also seeking to police the Internet. Some regulation is to be expected as the medium matures. However, filtering and surveillance can seriously erode civil liberties and privacy, and stifle global communications.

The OpenNet Initiative is a University-based policy research project* documenting filtering and surveillance practices worldwide. Our aim is to excavate, expose and analyze these practices in a credible and non-partisan fashion - to uncover the potential pitfalls of present policies, and explore the possibility of unintended and unexpected consequences, and thus help inform better public policy and advocacy work in this area. To achieve these aims, the ONI employs a unique multi-disciplinary approach that includes: Advanced Technical Means -- using a suite of sophisticated network interrogation tools and metrics; and Local Knowledge Expertise - through a global network of regionally based researchers and experts. OpenNet Initiative research will be published through this website in a series of national and regional case studies, occasional papers, and bulletins.

As part of it's work, the OpenNet Initiative also operates a "clearinghouse" for circumvention technologies which assesses and evaluates systems intended to let users bypass filtering and surveillance. We also actively develop circumvention technologies in- house as a means to explore the limitations of filtration and counter- filtration practices.

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About ONI

The openness of the Internet is under seige. States are aggressively implementing national censorship regimes aimed at controlling and monitoring access to information available through the Internet. While this type of censorship and surveillance occurs most prominently in non-democratic regimes, many democratic countries are also seeking to restrict access and regulate content in the service of “securing intellectual property rights, “safeguarding national security,” and “shielding children from pornography and exploitation.”

Efforts to restrict Internet content are not unprecedented; they follow a pattern previously established with other forms of media and communication. However, the erosion of Internet openness is particularly worrisome for three reasons: First, in many countries censorship is not a part of the public policy discourse. Rather, decisions of what to block and how are carried out by administrative fiat, or are a consequence of the particular commercial software used to block "unsavoury" content (such as pornography). Indeed, many countries that practice state censorship deny that they engage in the practice at all. Second, knowledge regarding the extent of state censorship is lacking and is largely based on anecdotal evidence. Third, a capacity to track and investigate state censorship activities is also lacking; those actors for whom a closure of the digital commons should be an active area of research and advocacy are poorly equipped to monitor and report on these practices.

The mission of the OpenNet Initiative is to challenge these practices by providing civil society advocates, scholars and activists with the technical, methodological and empirical means by which to study and interrogate policies of state censorship and surveillance worldwide. It proposes to do so through five defined objectives: A. Develop and deploy a suite of censorship enumeration tools and accompanying methodology;

B. Conduct major regional case studies;

C. Build capacity among networks of local advocates and researchers;

D. Establish a clearinghouse for circumvention technologies; and,

E. Contribute to building understandings of the scale, scope and consequences of national censorship practices. The OpenNet Initiative is a partnership between the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, and the Advanced Network Research Group at the Centre for Security in International Society at the University of Cambridge.