Tunis holds summit on Internet freedom after Arab Spring

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Global advocates of freedom of expression in cyberspace gathered in Tunis on Monday for the third Freedom Online Coalition conference to push for more Internet openness amid concerns of increased state surveillance.

The coalition was launched in December 2011 during a conference in The Hague, during which former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a keynote speech.

This year, the event is set to address three major issues: Internet freedom and security, digital development and openness and online privacy and transparency.

The founding declaration of the coalition states that it seeks to “share, as appropriates,” information on “potential violations and other measures that undermine the enjoyment of freedom of expression and other human rights on the Internet.”

It also aims “to support – both politically and through project aid – the ability of individuals, particularly those operating in repressive environments, to exercise their human rights through the Internet and connection technologies.”

Tunisia, the birthplace of the uprisings that swept the Middle East since 2011, joined the coalition during the second conference held in Kenya in September 2012.

It was the first Arab and the third African country to have joined the collation, which now has 19 member states, including the United States.

The U.S. government has recently come under fire for operating a massive international online surveillance program through its security and intelligence agencies.

Egypt and Jordan, both U.S. allies in the region, were reported to be the most targeted by the U.S. surveillance program, known as PRISM.

America’s Internet giant Google, a major private stakeholder of the Online Freedom Coalition, has denied giving the U.S. National Security Agency “direct access” to its servers.

“We have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers,” Google said in an official blog on June 7.

Google’s credibility on Internet freedom advocacy is likely to come under scrutiny during its Big Tent summit, which will be held on the sidelines of the Tunis conference. The Google summit will discuss “the present state and future of Internet freedom in the region,” a statement from the online giant read.

Google’s Global Head of Free Expression and International Relations
 Ross La Jeunesse and famous Egyptian television satirist Bassem Youssef are among the featured speakers at this year's Big Tent summit.

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