Access Now joins amicus brief in defense of OTF

Today, Access Now joined an amicus curiae brief in support of the Open Technology Fund (OTF) in the U.S. Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit, opposing the Trump administration and the U.S. Agency for Global Media’s (USAGM) decision to dismiss OTF leadership, dissolve its board, and replace the board with administration loyalists.

The amicus brief argues that actual and perceived independence of OTF, which funds anti-surveillance technology often used by human rights activists under repressive regimes, from any government (especially the U.S. government) is critical to the success of OTF’s internet freedom mission. With these leadership firings and appointment of Trump Administration political supporters with no expertise to the board, OTF will be viewed as compromised by the U.S. government, undermining its effectiveness. The brief also asserts that U.S. government attempts to determine the membership or leadership of a private non-profit violate the First Amendment right to freedom of association.

This brief follows on the heels of the same court granting an emergency injunction, preventing the USAGM from removing or replacing any OTF officers or directors.

“We commend the court for this week’s decision to affirm OTF’s leadership and board while the case moves forward,” said Peter Micek, General Counsel at Access Now. “Disrupting this lifeline for civil society, as the Administration intends to do, would reverse years of investment in internet freedom, a U.S. foreign policy priority, and spur the closing of civic space in numerous countries.”

“The Trump Administration’s actions here are egregious and unconstitutional,” said Jennifer Brody, Legislative Manager at Access Now. “For OTF to support human rights activists around the world, it must be independent from governing bodies, particularly ones growing more prone to surveillance, censorship, and retaliation. The dismantling of OTF will bring about significant harm to global citizens working to defend fundamental rights, and we cannot allow that to happen.”

Signing onto the amicus brief follows Access Now’s decision last month to join more than 500 public interest and human rights organizations in a letter to the U.S. Congress that calls for continued support of OTF and global internet freedom. Since the letter was sent, members of Congress have amplified the call.

Now more than ever, especially amidst its own democratic backsliding, it is crucial that the U.S. safeguards the internet as an inclusive space for free expression. Authoritarian regimes around the world will stop at nothing to block dissent online, and OTF plays a critical role in empowering human rights activists and journalists with the opportunity to speak truth to power.