FOCI '20 Call for Papers

The 10th USENIX Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI '20) will take place August 11, 2020, and will be co-located with the 29th USENIX Security Symposium.

Sponsored by USENIX, the Advanced Computing Systems Association

Important Dates

  • Extended Abstract/Position Paper Submissions Due: Thursday, May 21, 2020 Monday, June 8, 2020
  • Notification to authors: Thursday, June 18, 2020 Wednesday, July 1, 2020
  • Final Extended Abstracts due: Thursday, July 16, 2020 Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Conference Organizers

Program Co-Chairs

Roya Ensafi, University of Michigan
Hans Klein, Georgia Institute of Technology

Student Organizer

Reethika Ramesh, University of Michigan

Program Committee

Samantha Bradshaw, Oxford University
Jed Crandall, University of New Mexico
Nick Feamster, University of Chicago
David Fifield
Phillipa Gill, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Seda Gürses, Technische Universität Delft and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Amir Houmansadr, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Jacob Klein, Psiphon
Dave Levin, University of Maryland
Prateek Mittal, Princeton University
Milton Mueller, Georgia Institute of Technology
Anita Nikolich, Illinois Institute of Technology
Masashi Nishihata, University of Toronto
Rishab Nithyanand, University of Iowa
Michalis Polychronakis, Stony Brook University
Will Scott, Protocol Labs
Drew Springall, Auburn University
Michael Carl Tschantz, International Computer Science Institute (ICSI)
Dan Wallach, Rice University
Eric Wustrow, University of Colorado Boulder

Steering Committee

Jed Crandall, University of New Mexico
Roger Dingledine, The Tor Project
Nick Feamster, University of Chicago
Phillipa Gill, University of Massachusetts — Amherst
Casey Henderson, USENIX Association
Rob Jansen, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
Kurt Opsahl, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Jon Penney, The Citizen Lab, University of Toronto/Dalhousie
Joss Wright, University of Oxford


The 10th USENIX Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI '20) will bring together researchers and practitioners who study and develop technologies that directly affect digital speech online. FOCI will examine three broad areas of digital speech: censorship, surveillance, and disinformation/strategic communication. We solicit contributions from the fields of computer science, the social sciences, and law, and we welcome interdisciplinary submissions.


We welcome studies on all aspects of digital speech control. Censorship, both by states and by private actors, is of interest. This may include Internet censorship, content moderation systems on Internet platforms, as well as new applications of machine learning and algorithmic personalization.

Surveillance is another area of interest. Like censorship, surveillance may be conducted by corporations or governments. It occurs increasingly in spaces where individuals lack autonomy (e.g., public spaces, connected smart homes). FOCI is also interested in exploring the effects of increasingly pervasive surveillance technology on online speech.

Disinformation and strategic communication have emerged as vital concerns in online speech, with the concern that freedom of expression, once achieved, is undermined by bad information and destructive communications. At the societal level such communication can include harassment on automated recommendation systems, while at the political level it might include influence campaigns or cross-border election interference and propaganda.

Another important topic area is measurement and circumvention. Measurement and circumvention tools apply to all three areas of censorship, surveillance, and disinformation/strategic communication. Topics here include techniques for detection and analysis, as well as studies of deployment experiences from circumvention tools in real-world platforms, such as Tor.

Studies on these topics may range from the technical to the social scientific. Lower-level technical topics might examine traffic prioritization and performance differentiation, protocols and architectures for respectful communication, or the effects of Internet infrastructure, from routers and switches to applications, on surveillance or censorship.

Legal and social science studies might examine such topics as legal aspects of content moderation, social and behavioral factors affecting speech (e.g., chilling effects), regulatory approaches to speech controls, and malicious actions such as influencing elections, promoting social divisions, mobilizing protest, and undermining the legitimacy of institutions. Studies here might also analyze the various actors who seek to control online speech, from nation-state actors to corporate online content platforms.

The goal of FOCI is to catalyze new research directions and discussions that might not be mature or established enough to appear at conventional computer science measurement and security conferences. We aim to foster the development of early-stage work across disciplines. We recognize that control over online speech has become inherently interdisciplinary, so that studying these problems often involves adopting a holistic, interdisciplinary perspective.

For FOCI ’20 we especially encourage submissions on these topics:

  • New global markets in speech controls: As speech-control apps are increasingly developed and diffused outside Western markets, is it becoming more difficult to monitor these technologies and to counteract them?
  • Weaponization of cross-border speech: In anarchic international society, states use digital media to cross borders and to attempt to influence rivals’ domestic politics, and this has given rise to new restrictions on expression. Is it possible to detect and counter malicious actions without undermining free speech generally?
  • Internet industry concentration and free speech: With a small number of global giants dominating much Internet communication, what is the future of free expression? Is control over communication now in the hands of Google, Facebook, and a half-dozen other firms?

Submission Guidelines

We will select papers based on the promise of the ideas presented, based on submissions of an initial two-page abstract at submission time. Accepted extended abstracts will be asked to submit a full workshop paper by the time of the workshop. Based on final papers and discussions at the workshop, FOCI will present a best paper award, whose authors will be invited to publish a full version of their work in USENIX ;login:.

Submitted two-page abstract must be no longer than two 8.5” x 11” pages (excluding references and appendices), based on the standard USENIX format. Please note, however, that reviewers are not required to read appendices, and papers should be able to stand on their own without them. Specifically, regarding page limits, your paper should be typeset in two-column format in 10-point type on 12-point (single-spaced) leading, with a text block no more than 7” wide by 9” deep, on U.S. letter-size (8.5” x 11”) paper.

Papers must be submitted via the submission form. Papers must be properly anonymized; no author names or affiliations may appear on the title page, and authors should avoid revealing their identities in the text. When referring to your previous work, do so in the third person, as though it were written by someone else. Only blind the reference itself in the (unusual) case that a third-person reference is infeasible.

Papers accompanied by nondisclosure agreement forms will not be considered. Accepted submissions will be treated as confidential prior to publication on the USENIX FOCI '20 website; rejected submissions will be permanently treated as confidential.

Simultaneous submission of the same work to multiple venues, submission of previously published work, or plagiarism constitutes dishonesty or fraud. USENIX, like other scientific and technical conferences and journals, prohibits these practices and may take action against authors who have committed them. See the USENIX Conference Submissions Policy for details. Note, however, that we expect that many working papers accepted for FOCI '20 will eventually be extended as full papers suitable for formal academic publication and presentation at future conferences, and such papers are eligible for submission to FOCI.

Papers that do not comply with the submission requirements, including length and anonymity, may be rejected without review.

By submitting a paper, you agree that at least one of the authors will attend the conference to present it. If the conference registration fee will pose a hardship for the presenter of the accepted paper, please contact

Please do not hesitate to contact the program co-chairs at if you have any questions about the submission process or other aspects of FOCI '20.


Contact your program co-chairs,, or the USENIX office,