Potential Partnership and Support Letter: Censored Planet + Open Labs

Hi Open Labs!

As some of you might know, I currently work as a Designer and Research Associate at the University of Michigan where as part of R3 Lab and Censored Planet we measure internet censorship globally, including Albania as well. I’m writing here after talking with Mariana that this would be the best way to ask members.

I’m reaching out regarding your help with a funding proposal for Censored Planet, a platform which helps measure various types of interference on the Internet without the help of volunteer-run measurements. The project is founded by Roya Ensafi’s lab in the University of Michigan and I will lead the platform user experience and research.

This work is incredibly important to me and the team as we will be able to make internet censorship detection more powerful and offer a diversified set of tools and datasets, open to the public and hence digital advocacy organizations including Open Labs. Potential use cases could be automated open data sets of censored sites in Albania throughout time. We would be happy to collaborate with Open Labs in order to expose these events more publicly.

I’d be immensely grateful if you’d be able to help us out with a letter of support for this proposal. In order to justify the development of a real-time global data observatory, we would need to ensure that the measurement data can be put into good use. A letter of support would go a long way for this. Would Open Labs be willing to help us with that?

Context:

Censored Planet has great potential and it complements the great work done by other censorship observatories such as OONI. Over the years we have introduced an entirely different approach that holds promise as more scalable means of measuring global censorship. We use network side-channels to remotely detect network anomalies, without making use of dedicated probing infrastructure owned and/or operated by the end-user. The Censored Planet pilot deployment has already demonstrated that it can provide critical insight on important policy matters. For instance, just in the past week, we investigated Kazakhstan’s carrier-level HTTPS interception: https://censoredplanet.org/kazakhstan. Censored Planet has more than 6,000 vantage points in Kazakhstan, allowing us to determine that the attack affects a fraction of connections passing through the country’s largest ISP, Kazakhtelecom (AS 9198 KazTelecom).

The budget will go to make Censored Planet more flexible and useful for digital rights groups::

  1. Operating an observatory: necessary system development and administration to transform the Censored Planet pilot into a fully operational observatory maintained as a public resource.
  2. Building tools and algorithmic methods: extracting insights from sparse measurement data, such as automated detection of policy changes within a country or countries.
  3. Cultivating a community of NGOs, activists, and data scientists to best make use of Censored Planet data.

Censored Planet can collect massive data (in short notice and regularly) but requires regional activists organizations to use the data and provide context and meaning. Also, Censored Planet can solicit suggestions for custom measurements suiting NGOs’ and researchers’ needs. For example, an NGO could request fine-grained data related to specific political topics during a national election in their country, so they can see the changes in the availability of information about the topic over time. This feedback loop will allow us to fully understand the events.

*Sample support letter: *

The support letter just needs to show how our data could be useful for you and your organization’s mission. Specific project examples are welcome!.
We are aware that your time might be limited, so if it makes this easier, we have an example letter you could use:

I greatly and wholeheartedly appreciate your support.

Elio