The Coalition was established in 2011 at the inaugural Freedom Online Conference in The Hague, the Netherlands at the initiative of the Dutch Foreign Ministry. Today the Coalition has 32 members, spanning from Africa to Asia, Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East.
The FOC was established at the inaugural FO Conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, by the Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal. During the conference 15 countries jointly endorsed the FOC Founding Declaration and committed to the principle that the human rights people have offline also apply online. Since then, the Coalition has grown from 15 to 32 member countries, spanning from Africa to Asia, Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East. As the most recent members, Switzerland joined in 2019 and Denmark – in 2020.
The second annual FO Conference in Nairobi in September 2012. The Conference focused on the role of an open and free Internet as a prerequisite for respecting human rights, and its role in development and economic growth. During the conference, FOC members agreed to the Nairobi Terms of Reference and launched the Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP) fund.
The third Freedom Online Conference was hosted by the government of Tunisia in June 2013, with themes including free and secure Internet, digital development and privacy online. Discussions resulted in the establishment of the three FOC multistakeholder working groups: An Internet Free and Secure, Digital Development and Openness, and Privacy and Transparency Online.
The FOC Secretariat is established to provide administrative support to the Coalition, maximize coordination efforts among members, and facilitate internal and external communications.
The fourth annual conference was hosted by the government of Estonia in April 2014, and welcomed 400 delegates from over 60 countries. Under the title ‘Free and Secure Internet for All’ the conference focused on censorship, balkanization of the Internet, the future of freedom online and Internet governance. At the Conference, the FOC members adopted the Tallinn Recommendations for Freedom Online. The Recommendations were drafted in a multistakeholder fashion and they reaffirm the Coalition’s commitment to respect and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. The official FOC website was launched at the Conference.
FOC Working Groups ‘An Internet Free and Secure’ and ‘Privacy and Transparency Online’ are formally set up through an open call for members.
The ‘Friends of the Chair’ group is established to provide support to the FOC chair in the run-up to the annual conference and ensure year to year continuity of the Coalition’s diplomatic efforts.
The fifth annual Freedom Online Conference was hosted by the government of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar on 4-5 May 2015. 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.” At the Conference, the FOC launched a Strategic Review looking at four key areas: membership, organizational structure, objectives and activities, and funding.
The sixth annual Freedom Online Conference was held in San Jose, Costa Rica. The Conference met under the theme “enhancing an open, active and constructive online community for the enjoyment of an effective citizenship online and centered on contributing to the ongoing multi-stakeholder exchange on how to address the challenges, opportunities and potential of free, open and accessible online channels and platforms for political, social and economic development”.
During the conference the San Jose Statement of the Freedom Online Coalition regarding the outcome of the 2016 Strategic Review was presented to the international community. This document is the culmination of a 16 month process that began in the 5th Annual Freedom Online Conference that took place in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The San José Statement reiterates the Coalition’s key values and purpose and outlines a work plan aiming to make it more dynamic and effective.
On May 16 2017, at the FOC Strategy an Coordination Meeting held adjacent to the Stockholm Internet Forum 2017, the FOC officially adopted its new Terms of Reference (TOR). The new TOR – known as the “Stockholm Terms of Reference”– contains, inter alia, updates to the Coalition’s membership criteria, the future of multistakeholder participation, and provides clarification of FOC’s working methods.
On 6-7 February 2020, the 8th Annual Freedom Online Conference took place in Accra, under the theme “Achieving a Common Vision for Internet Freedom”, gathering over 300 participants from civil society, private sector and academia from 60 countries all over the world.
The Conference provided a unique forum to re-examine the state of play of current and arising challenges to freedom online, exchange perspectives and identify possible solutions. With Ghana at the helm, the Conference placed particular emphasis on reviewing the current state of digital rights across Africa, outlining strategies for improving digital rights on the continent, and globally.