(New York, NY): Today, leading philanthropies in partnership with Apple announced over $4 million in grants through the Spyware Accountability Initiative to address the harms of the global spyware industry on civil society. The nearly two dozen organizations supported by these grants will leverage regulation, litigation, and investigation to ensure that governments and corporations cannot use state-sponsored mercenary spyware to harm or unjustly surveil the civil society organizations that keep them in check.

The Ford Foundation’s Dignity and Justice Fund, fiscally sponsored by the New Venture Fund (NVF), launched the Spyware Accountability Initiative with a founding contribution by Apple and additional support from Open Society Foundations, Okta for Good, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies. Grantees of the Dignity and Justice Fund’s Spyware Accountability Initiative were recommended to the board of NVF by the Fund’s advisory board, which consists of members of the Ford Foundation leadership team. An independent, global technical advisory committee advised on the Fund’s grantmaking strategy. Over the next five years, the Spyware Accountability Initiative will support a growing community of researchers and advocacy organizations investigating, exposing, and bringing accountability to the global mercenary spyware trade.

“Addressing the global spyware industry cannot be the work of any one company or funder or government; it requires an approach as interconnected as our world is today,” said Lori McGlinchey, director of Ford Foundation’s Technology and Society program. “Ford Foundation is proud to be a part of the Spyware Accountability Initiative, which harnesses the resources and technical prowess of Apple, the funding and social justice acumen of philanthropy, and the cutting edge research and advocacy of civil society worldwide. The Spyware Accountability Initiative is a major step towards confronting and neutralizing the threat mercenary spyware poses to human rights defenders, journalists, and dissidents around the globe.”

In recent years state and non-state actors have used spyware to track and intimidate human rights defenders, political dissidents, and environmental activists, leading to hundreds of acts of physical violence and psychological harm. There is not a single company or piece of malicious software behind these attacks, but a burgeoning and lucrative industry whose footprint extends to virtually every region of the world, and notably the Global South, where the harms of mercenary spyware are most pronounced. 

“Holding mercenary spyware firms and their government clients accountable for their harms will require a  collaborative effort and a growing community of organizations and individuals dedicated to the problem,” said Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab. “By supporting initiatives in this area, the Spyware Accountability Initiative will help ensure a growing and vibrant space for digital accountability research and advocacy for years to come.”  

The aim of the Spyware Accountability Initiative is to grow a global field of civil society organizations who are advancing threat research, advocacy and accountability to address the use and trade of spyware. Half of the grants announced today support organizations in the Global South. The Initiative’s first wave of grants focuses on three key areas: international advocacy and litigation; investigations and research; and Global South regional field building and organizational strengthening. Groups supported by grants through the Spyware Accountability Initiative include:

Access Now (Global), Amnesty Tech (Amnesty International) (Global), Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (Global), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (USA), The Citizen Lab (Canada), Data Privacy Brasil (Brazil), Digital Rights Foundation (Pakistan), Epicenter.works (Europe), Hiperderecho (Peru), International Justice Clinic at the University of California, Irvine School of Law (USA), Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University (USA), Lighthouse Reports (Netherlands), Media Defence (UK), Media Diversity Institute (Armenia), Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D) (Mexico), Red Line for Gulf (UK), SocialTIC (Mexico), Spaces For Change (Nigeria), Unwanted Witness (Uganda).

To learn more, visit the homepage of the Spyware Accountability Initiative.

The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

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