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This session, moderated by Mr Andrew Puddephatt, Head of the Freedom Online Coalition Support Unit, featured discussions on the work of the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC), an intergovernmental coalition of 30 countries, committed to advancing Internet freedom, currently under the chairmanship of the German Federal Government.
Mr Wolfram von Heynitz, Head of the Cyber Coordination Unit, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Germany, briefed the audience about the current state of play of the FOC under the German leadership. The FOC organises a general conference annually, which will be taking place in Berlin this year, on 28-30 November. The Coalition has also worked on joint statements, for instance, on the accompanying Good Practices for Government on State-Sponsored Network Disruptions (March 2017) and on Internet Censorship (2018). The next statements will focus on the digital divide, as well as on civil spaces.
Mr Matthew Shears, Co-Chair, Freedom Online Coalition Advisory Network, presented the functioning and the work of the newly established Freedom Online Coalition Advisory Network, which is a network of civil society and independent observers supporting the discussions of the FOC. It was set up at the beginning of 2018, and now gathers approximately 30 experts, from civil society, academia, and technical communities. This network advises governments and contributes to statements drafted by the FOC.
Ms Wafa Ben-Hassine, Access Now, Middle East and North Africa Policy Lead, first highlighted the worrying trends that can be observed in the MENA region in terms of the Internet and media policies, and their negative consequences on civic spaces online. Ben-Hassine mentioned the recent cybercrime law in Egypt, which authorises mass surveillance and forces the Internet service providers to keep and store all users’ data for 180 days. The Freedom Online Coalition has a role in stopping this trend of human rights violations, partly in engaging with states that are not members of this coalition.
Ms Lisa Vermeer, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands, first recalled that the Netherlands was a founder of this coalition, and mentioned the initiative it had launched in 2012, the Digital Defenders Partnership. This Partnership started as a programme focusing on digital threats for human rights defenders, and is now focusing in a more holistic way on all the threats (physical, digital, and psychological) faced by activists in the world. Vermeer welcomed the progress made by FOC since the San Jose Conference in 2016, which led to concrete new steps such as the civil society advisory group.
By Clément Perarnaud