A new approach to university-based research striving to become the eyes and ears of digital censorship worldwide
“The Open Net Initiative represents a new approach to university-based research,” says Cambridge University’s Rafal Rohozinski. “We fuse cutting-edge intelligence-derived techniques with a networked model of analysis that includes some of the brightest minds in this field – we are striving to become the eyes and ears on digital censorship worldwide.”
The Open Net Initiative (ONI) was formed in 2004 with support from the Soros Foundation’s Open Society Institute and represents a partnership among groups at three leading global universities: Cambridge, Harvard, and Toronto. As Harvard’s Jonathan Zittrain explains, “The aim of the ONI is to excavate, analyze, and report censorship and surveillance practices in a rigorous, ongoing fashion. In order to fully understand the Internet’s evolution, we must be able to map it empirically.”
The ONI employs a unique interdisciplinary methodology that combines information derived from a global network of local researchers with advanced technical network probes to create a detailed picture of what goes on beneath the surface of the Internet.
As University of Toronto’s Ronald Deibert explains, some techniques of interrogation have been deliberately borrowed from the world of intelligence. “The tools we employ to probe the subterranean layers of the Internet are not necessarily new,” says Deibert. “The combination of electronic surveillance and human-based information gathering has long been the hallmark of state intelligence practices. What we are doing with the ONI is taking these tools and turning them inside-out, so to speak, focusing them back on the ‘watchers’ to measure their practices against general principles of human rights, and open the lid on the World Wide Web.”
ONI researchers in the UK, Canada and United States lead discrete aspects of the research, and jointly analyze the resulting data. Technical research is centered on University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, legal and statistical analysis is led by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, while managing human-based information gathering activities is the responsibility of the Advanced Network Research Group at Cambridge University.
Additional research and writing work conducted by the Berkman Center in this field is supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and other sources, while the work of the Citizen Lab and Advanced Network Research Group is supported by the Ford Foundation.
ONI research reports, bulletins, and advisories will be released periodically and can be found on the ONI website: <http://www.opennetinitiative.net/>.
Director, Citizen Lab, Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto,
Director, Advanced Network Research Group, Cambridge Security Programme, University of Cambridge,