FOCI '20 Preliminary 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 in Boston, MA, USA.

Sponsored by USENIX, the Advanced Computing Systems Association

Important Dates

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

Conference Organizers

Program Co-Chairs

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

Program Committee


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?

Paper format and publication process

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:.

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


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