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The Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) cultivates research, outputs, and creative collaboration on topics related to repressive internet censorship and surveillance. The 2018 application window was open from February 4, 2018 until March 25, 2018.
Next deadline: 

Setting the stage

The Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) supports examination into how governments in countries, regions, or areas of OTF’s core focus are restricting the free flow of information, cutting access to the open internet, and implementing censorship mechanisms, thereby threatening the ability of global citizens to exercise basic human rights and democracy; work focused on mitigation of such threats is also supported.

Fellowship Information

  • Three, six, nine or twelve month fellowships available
  • Usually offered to postdoctoral, doctoral students, and experienced researchers with demonstrated ability and expertise
  • Monthly stipend of $4,200 USD
  • Travel stipend of $1,250 to $5,000 USD depending on the fellowship length
Likely candidates

Typically, ICFP fellows have experience in fields such as computer science, engineering, information security research, software development, social sciences, law, and data visualization, among others. Information controls is a cross-disciplinary field, so applications are open to people from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines and can include students and junior to mid-career practitioners. To get a better sense of the ICFP community, you can read about fellows from round one, round two, round three and round four.

Who are the fellows?

Check out the current ICFP fellows!

Current fellows
Information Controls Fellow

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are commercial services which play a key role in Internet freedom. They are used by individuals globally to attain privacy as well as to evade Internet censorship. While these services make certain privacy claims, customers do not have methods of verification of these guarantees, lack insight about their operational details and how they handle customer traffic.

Information Controls Fellow

As a Senior Information Controls Fellow, Zack Weinberg is working with the Calipr group at UMass-Amherst on software for continually refining the set of web pages monitored for censorship in various countries, and for assisting with analysis of the censorship policy in these countries.

Information Controls Fellow

As a Senior OTF fellow, Igor Valentovich will work with to conduct a comparative research on the progress of information controls in the former Soviet Union space. He will investigate instances of blocking and DDoS attacks against the online platforms of local civil society projects to identify common trends and isolate potent triggers of Internet censorship in the region.

Information Controls Fellow

Simone will work with Measurement Lab at the Open Technology Institute to advance the MeasurementKit platform. MeasurementKit is the engine underneath OONI-Probe’s mobile testing platform and the Measurement Lab performance testing platform that generates millions of data points each year.

Information Controls Fellow

As a Senior Information Controls Fellow, Ksenia will work at Citizen Lab to investigate information operations (censorship, shutdowns, targeted surveillance) in the context of armed conflicts and post-annexation in the former soviet-union region, namely Ukraine and Russia.

Information Controls Fellow

Arzu will work with the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University to advance understanding of information controls in Azerbaijan. She will perform research around the country’s internet infrastructure and relevant country legislation, document past internet blocks and surveillance mechanisms used, and also track network interference.

Where do fellows work?

ICFP fellows embed with a host organization for the duration of their fellowship.

When applying, applicants can specify any host organization of their choosing. Regardless of whether it is a previous or new host organization, justification needs to be provided in the application. Please note that non-academic host organizations are welcome, as are those based outside the United States. While fellows are ideally able to work locally within their host organization, applicants who wish to work remotely will also be considered with the expectation that a strategy for remote communication will be established. You can find previous host organizations listed in the fellowship descriptions.

For entities interested in serving as a host organization, please email [email protected] for more information.

Criteria and the application process

For a full rundown of the application process, head here.

When are requests for applications made?

The 2018 application window was open from February 5, 2018 until March 25, 2018. Please note that applications had to be submitted via the OTF website no later than 23:59 (11:59PM) GMT on March 25, 2018. The fellowship window is open once annually.

If you’d like to be notified when this and other OTF funding windows open in the future, sign up to join the OTF-announce mailing list.

Potential areas of focus
  • Development and refinement of tools and techniques to continuously monitor internet interference on a global scale
  • Investigation of information controls, security, and privacy in popular applications such as search engines, social media platforms, and instant messaging clients
  • Testing creative methods of censorship circumvention
  • Examination of the impact of internet censorship and use of circumvention tools
  • Experimental techniques to limit pro-government manipulation of online discussions
  • Analysis of targeted threats against civil society organizations, including internet filtering, denial of service attacks, and targeted malware
  • Other novel ideas and approaches relating to the study of global and regional information controls
Things to avoid
  • A focus on countries with minimal information controls
  • Working with a host organization you are already affiliated with
  • Testing of end user connections that violate established ethical principles
  • Projects better suited for the Digital Integrity Fellowship Program
Important considerations
  • Projects should exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to the mission of promoting freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online. Objectives should be ambitious, yet measurable and achievable with activities and milestones listed monthly. The overall project goals should extend beyond traditional audiences.
  • For the duration of fellowships, the fellow will be expected to work full time with their host organization.
  • Before completing a submission, we strongly encourage you to review our Terms of Service.
  • Please pose any questions in this public spreadsheet and they will be answered in a prompt fashion. If your question is not appropriate for a public forum, please email [email protected]

Review panel

All ICFP fellowship applications are reviewed by the OTF team; selected applications are also then reviewed by an independent Advisory Council review panel comprised of experts with deep knowledge and insight into topics related to information controls.

Members of the ICFP Advisory Council review panel are:

Advisory council
Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam

Stefania Milan is on the Information Controls Fellowship Program Advisory Council. She is a researcher, writer and digital rights activist whose work explores the intersection of technology, governance and activism.

Advisory council
Internet data scientist, UC San Diego

Philipp Winter is on the Information Controls Fellowship Program Advisory Council. Philipp does research on computer networking, security, and privacy. When not writing research papers, he enjoys working on free software and making research more accessible to the general public.

Advisory council
Postdoctoral Researcher

Roya Ensafi is on the Information Controls Fellowship Program Advisory Council. Her research focuses on security and privacy, with an emphasis on designing techniques and systems to protect users from hostile networks. She won the 2016 Applied Networking Research Prize from the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) for her research on the Great Firewall of China. While earning her Ph.D.

Award information

OTF awards are performance-based contracts between RFA and the applicant with payment occurring through a monthly stipend subject to approval each month by the OTF Program Manager and supporting host organization. OTF reserves the right to award less or more than the funds described under such circumstances as it may deem to be in the best interest of the program priorities.

Application requirements, submission, and deadlines

Project and Budget Periods

OTF fellowship contracts are 3, 6, 9 or 12 months in duration. From time to time OTF may consider applications to extend existing contracts beyond the initial project period. Any such decision will be subject to availability of funds, satisfactory progress of the applicants, and a determination that continued funding would be in the best interest of program priorities.

Monitoring & Evaluation

OTF views monitoring and evaluation as a way to learn from our fellows and share lessons learned with future applicants. This improves the collective knowledge of the community and thus contributes to its sustainability.

Because payment is dispersed at monthly intervals upon completion of stated contractual goals, successful applicants can expect regular contact with both their host organization and OTF project manager. Monitoring consists of compulsory monthly reports and also phone, email, or in-person discussions and consultations as needed. Fellows are required to submit brief monthly updates about their work to OTF, their host organization, and the OTF community. This allows others to review and comment on the ICFP community’s work, encouraging collaboration.

The adviser or responsible person at the host organization, in turn, provides a “traffic light” report to OTF evaluating their fellow’s progress. This report, detailed below, is the basis upon which stipend payments are released to fellows on a monthly basis.

A “green light” from the host organization signals that the fellow is on track and funds can be released. A “yellow light” from the host organization signals that while funds should be released, there are some concerns that need to be flagged to OTF. A “red light” from the host organization signals that progress has been interrupted and an intervention is required. The host organization recommends “stop payment” and OTF, the host organization, and the fellows discuss possible remedial steps to either get back on track or terminate the fellowship.

  • Individuals of all ages irrespective of nationality, residency, creed, gender, or other factors, with the exception that OTF is not able to support applicants within countries that the United States has trade restrictions or export sanctions as determined by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
  • Individuals who demonstrate skill and ability to assist in efforts to overcome information controls.
  • Individuals who demonstrate a desire to grow their knowledge and skills through a collaborative, cross-discipline approach.
  • Individuals who demonstrate a commitment to reach audiences outside the research community.

Other requests

Next deadline: 
The Digital Integrity Fellowship Program (DIFP) provides fixed monthly stipends to individuals capable of addressing short-term and long-term threats to freedom of expression online. Fellows provide organizations and communities most affected by internet freedom violations (like journalists, human rights defenders, NGOs, activists, bloggers, and others) comprehensive internal support with their digital security expertise. Simultaneously, Fellows will educate the broader internet freedom field about the threats and vulnerabilities experienced, to ensure that emerging and existing technologies best meet the needs of at-risk communities.