The fifth annual Freedom Online (FO) Conference was held in Ulaanbaatar under the Chairmanship of the Government of Mongolia from 4-5 May 2015. Attended by more than 240 people from the government, civil society and the business sector, coming from 60 countries, participants met to discuss current threats to freedom online and opportunities to strengthen the protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights. In line with the Coalition’s on-going work through its multi-stakeholder working groups, Conference workshops were organized into three tracks: An Internet Free and Secure; Digital Development and Openness; and Privacy and Transparency Online. The overarching theme for the Conference was “Internet Policy Making – Best Practices for Promoting Online Freedom.”
Participants expressed a commitment to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms online and desire to ensure the internet stays a secure and accessible platform for all. The value of promoting freedom of expression, access to information, as well as providing new opportunities for business and development and social interaction across borders was emphasized by many participants, as well as in the Chair’s Statement, the Conference output document.
Sessions were broad ranging, including plenaries looking at the specific challenges to internet freedom in the Asia/Pacific region and a stimulating session that looked at future technological developments and their implications for internet freedom. Conference workshops, selected through a competitive selection process, ranged from an examination of how to use deliberative polling in the field of internet governance; an update from the Digital Defenders partnership; to a discussion on different models for providing cybersecurity by examining the lessons of Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). One popular innovation was the introduction of 15-minute flash sessions to highlight specific issues. A common reflection was the need to ensure more innovative formats for discussion and increasing opportunities for interaction. Videos of Conference workshops can be accessed here.
The Conference was also an opportunity to report back on the activities of the Coalition since the fourth annual FO Conference in Tallinn and the progress made since the adoption of the Tallinn Agenda. Much of the update focused on the work of the three FOC Working Groups and the progress achieved since their inception at the FO Conference in Tunis (2013). During the Conference, all three Groups held open sessions to share information about their activities and seek input on next steps from the broader community: WG1 has been exploring ways to bring a human rights framing to cybersecurity discussions and policies; WG2, newly launched, has been working on the applicability of the rule of law to internet development challenges; and WG3 has been focusing upon the interplay of privacy and transparency in the context of business and government relationships and ways to strengthen the transparency of these relationships. Some of the concrete outputs of the working groups include the mapping of major cybersecurity events and processes, designed to help human rights activists follow cybersecurity debates more closely, a draft executive summary of a forthcoming report on transparency regarding government requests to ICT companies for user information or content restriction, and the working definition of cybersecurity. Following a discussion among FOC members, Working Group mandates have been renewed for another year.
The sixth Freedom Online conference will be held in Costa Rica in 2016.
The Freedom Online Coalition is a group of governments who have committed to work together to support Internet freedom and protect fundamental human rights – free expression, association, assembly, and privacy online – worldwide. The Coalition provides a platform for multistakeholder engagement, which is also recognized in its founding declaration, and the annual meeting is an opportunity to engage civil society and the private sector in a constructive dialogue on issues related to Internet freedom.