In 2013, the annual conference of the Freedom Online Coalition was held in an Arab country for the first time. Tunisia, being one of the first Arab countries to experience the protest movements demanding more freedom and democracy, dealt proactively with the challenges. For instance, it committed to the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on “promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet.”
Tunisia’s will to host the event has shown its commitment to give a positive and constructive answer to some of the demands of the people of Tunisia, who occupied the streets of the country in the uprising that began in January 2011. To emphasize this spirit, the conference was titled “Joint Action for Free Expression on the Internet”, in order to cement the unity of the Coalition on Internet freedom.
489 participants from 51 different countries attended the conference, amongst them government and civil society representatives, bloggers, hackers, academics, as well as business and technical representatives. The largest group of participants (59%) came from the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) region, highlighting the importance of holding the conference in a strategically located and politically salient place like the city of Tunis. The work of the conference was structured around three thematic groups, guided by three core areas of Internet freedom.
The first theme attempted to find strategies to allow an Internet that is both free and secure: in particular, attention was drawn on the adoption of policies to counter cybercrime, which have the potential to undermine civil liberties and to balkanize the Internet.
The second theme worked on how to build an agenda of digital development that will broaden people’s access to the Internet and ICT: the conference emphasized the importance that digital development ensures the inclusion of all the voices contributing to shape the Internet’s future. The adoption of digital development policies towards an open and accessible Internet is therefore crucial.
Finally, the third theme addressed what can be done by both governments and private companies to assure two of the most fundamental aspects of the use of the Internet: transparency and privacy. Companies have increasing access to a large amount of personal data and they respond to government requests on law enforcement and interception. Thus, the public-private relationship on the handling of personal data is a dramatically important issue that needs the most careful scrutiny.
In an effort to further advance these goals and work towards practical outcomes, the FOC decided to establish three multistakeholder working groups on key issues of concern to Internet freedom and human rights.
By continually cooperating thought the year, these thematic working groups not only ensure continuity of FOC work, but also strengthen the Coalitions ability to reach practical and effective outcomes.