A note on funding and our mention in Wired

A message from Nathan Freitas, lead developer on Guardian, who has a life long bad habit of being misquoted or selectively quoted, a phenomenon he must now blame on himself, and not the reporters who interview him.

Some of you might have seen a story on Wired.com on which I am quoted, regarding the US State Department’s “Internet Freedom” agenda. In particular, I was asked to comment on the entrepreneurial angle they are taking. Overall, I think the article is good in laying out the challenges for activist technology projects to take funding from the Government. I also think the motivations of the State Department’s effort are authentic and there is great potential to benefit the overall health of the Internet.

However, I just want to clarify this portion:

Nathan Freitas of the Guardian Project, which designs Android-based tools for mobile anonymity, says he’s not going to apply for any of State’s money. “Accounting complexity of process means we’d have to spend 25 percent of it” on an accountant, he says, while praising the idea in theory

To get to the point, I just wish it had said:

While he is not going to apply direct for any of this round of State’s money, the project has received funding and support from US Gov’t funded organizations in the past.

I am not faulting the reporter on accuracy (as they will always just edit down to the most direct statement), and I hope I am not parsing words, but somewhere in my “praising the idea in theory”, I did mention that we had received small grants from US government funded organizations. The last thing I want to do is sound like a hypocrite, and so I decided to write this post to clarify the statement, while also helping shed light on how a project like ours is able to exist and grow. While the work we are doing is free as in speech, and free as in beer, paying rent and putting food on the table is definitely NOT free.

From my participation as a developer on the Tor Project (who is completely transparent with their funding sources here) and through conversations with other organizations (university research groups, Washington DC-based NGOs), I have been exposed to the significant complexity it takes to receive, process and account for this type of government funding. As mentioned in the article, it is nothing out of order for a government, which should have strong oversight on tax payer dollars, but their approach seems still pretty far from the more dynamic, flexible entrepreneurial-style we are seeing from seed and angel round venture capitalists today or efforts like YCombinator and the Knight News Challenge.

Guardian at this point is just an open-source project. We are not a non-profit or a corporation, and are not tied to a university. We exist on the coattails of a variety of other organizations, whose support we greatly benefit from. Based on this, I again just want to clarify that while this project is not applying for “any of State’s money” in this next round of $25 Million, we have received small grant funding and contract consulting work from groups funded by State department funding. The type of funding we have received historically are small grants from larger NGOs in the $10-20k range, and most of that money has gone to pay developers. The contract work we do (which is actually done as independent contractors, not through Guardian) includes training activists around the world in our how to secure their communications better, setting up specific hardware/software kits for use by NGOs in the field, and software development work for other organizations that need our expertise. At this point however, the majority of our relatively small funding comes from private donors and foundations, and not the US Government.

In the end, these are all new waters for me and the project to navigate. We believe that by keeping all of our code, designs and communications completely open to the world for scrutiny, we can help address any concerns over our motivations or the trustworthiness of our software. We hope that by taking funding from a variety of sources and being as transparent about those sources as we can, we can keep the projects vision and ideals whole.

Feel free to chime in below with your thoughts. You can also keep an eye on our partners and funding page to see who we are working with and how. Finally, if you want to work with us, we are eager to fund talented developers and designers to help us build the open-source mobile security apps the world very much needs.