“Guests from 88 countries around the world! An impressive demonstration of Germany’s commitment to freedom on the internet and human rights online. Also confirmation of the multi-stakeholder approach for the internet as an alternative to over-regulation and human rights restrictions on the net!” This was the message we got from a participant in the conference in the Weltsaal at the Federal Foreign Office.
The Annual Freedom Online Conference starts today in Berlin. Representatives of governments and civil society will meet in various formats over the next couple of days to discuss cybersecurity, support for human rights defenders and ways to handle disinformation while achieving a balance with the need to preserve internet freedom.
What is the Freedom Online Coalition?
The Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) was established in The Hague in 2011. It is an informal coalition of 30 states from five continents committed to working together to protect human rights online as part of their foreign policy agenda. Germany has been a member since 2013.
The FOC was set up as a response to the realisation that, as new spaces opened up on the internet, authoritarian governments reacted with increasing state controls and surveillance. The FOC’s approach aims to counter this and to protect the right to freedom of opinion, privacy and freedom of assembly.
What does the Freedom Online Coalition do?
Since 2012, the FOC has issued 15 joint statements, thereby providing points of reference for other states, too. They included statements on:
•restrictions on access to social media
•the use and export of surveillance technology
•state-sponsored network disruptions
•and, most recently, in 2018, internet censorship.
The involvement of non-governmental representatives in the FOC Advisory Network, as agreed in Stockholm in 2017, plays an important role. The Advisory Network currently comprises 30 representatives of civil society, science, academia and business selected from a large number of applicants on the basis of their commitment to protecting human rights online as well as other criteria (geographical and gender balance).
The Advisory Network advises the FOC in its work and before it draws up joint statements. It can also suggest topics for future joint statements and for the FOC’s work.