The 2018 Freedom Online Conference

Internet Freedom at a Crossroads – Common Paths towards Strengthening Human Rights Online


is a partnership of 30 governments, working to advance Internet freedom. Coalition members work closely together to coordinate their diplomatic efforts and engage with civil society and the private sector to support Internet freedom – free expression, association, assembly, and privacy online – worldwide.

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is the flagship event of the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC), bringing together governments and stakeholders from around the world to discuss the most urgent challenges to the realization of human rights online. This year, the Conference will take place at the German Federal Foreign Office in Berlin from 28-30 November.


The conference offers an open platform for discussion among all stakeholders – governments, civil society, the private sector, and others – to share relevant information, develop joint strategies and combine efforts towards their mutual goal of a human rights based Internet.


To many around the world, the Internet has become an essential part of everyday life. For too many, however, Internet freedom  – freedom of expression, association, assembly, and privacy online – remains a distant promise. The Freedom on the Net Report 2017 documents a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in global Internet freedom. While in some countries  a lack of access remains an ongoing issue, in others authoritarian governments work to control and restrict the use of the Internet. Such “authoritarian backlash” not only prevents individuals from enjoying the benefits of the Internet, but is detrimental to social and economic development as a whole. More importantly, associated measures have problematic implications under international human rights law.

Challenges to fundamental freedoms online are by no means limited to the relationship between governments and the individual citizen. Online platforms are predominantly managed by private companies, whose business models rely on the use of personal data as an economic commodity. While such business models offer many benefits, they raise a number of difficult questions on the principles of data collection – especially regarding user consent, data use and content regulation. Definitions of illegal content and the obligations of platform providers vary between jurisdictions.


The title of the Conference, Internet Freedom at a Crossroads – Common Paths towards Strengthening Human Rights Online, highlights the notion that global Internet freedom has reached a critical juncture. In order to reverse current negative trends, common action by governments, the private sector and civil society is required. The conference will provide a unique forum for all stakeholders to exchange perspectives and identify solutions beyond national contexts.

To do this, the Conference will seek to establish a common understanding across stakeholder groups of the respective challenges, and derive a (shared) understanding of the responsibilities and need for action by the respective stakeholder groups, with a sharing of ideas and best practices for possible solutions.


The Conference will be taking place from the 28-30 November, consisting of a ‘Day Zero’ on Wednesday 28 November, which will include FOC working meetings in the morning, followed by open sessions and social events in the afternoon and evening. The Conference will be opened officially on the Thursday 29 November, with a welcome address by Germany’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Heiko Maas, and keynote speeches by distinguished representatives.

The Conference program will build on FOC priorities identified in the Program of Action for 2018, including the role of governments in preventing and limiting state-sponsored restrictions to human rights online, efforts to support civil society voices online and bridge the digital divides, and discussions around promotion and protection of human rights online in the context of cybersecurity. The Conference program will additionally focus on a number of critical issues, including content regulation in the digital age, the impact of emerging technologies on human rights, fake news and disinformation and their impact on trust and confidence in the Internet.

Browse the Conference program here, and the profiles of featured participants here.