Compliance Management, Privacy

UN report says encryption protects people’s liberties and expression

Hindering encryption on devices and communications will negatively impact the right to freedom of opinion and expression, according to a new report from the United Nation's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The liberties encryption protects, including expression, economic rights, due process and peaceful assembly and association, makes it such that governments should only restrict encryption and anonymity according to “principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimacy in objective,” the report states.

David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, assembled the report as a “special rapporteur” for the UN on freedom of opinion and expression.

Beyond heralding encryption and anonymity as methods to “create a zone of privacy to protect opinion and belief,” Kaye pointed to specific countries who are infringing on their citizens' established digital safe areas.

In particular, Kaye called out the United States for contemplating installing backdoors on devices, writing that Congress should pass legislation to prohibit the federal government from “requiring companies to weaken product security or insert back-door access measures.”

While the U.S. government, especially the FBI, has said that default device encryption will hamper criminal investigations, Kaye says no government making this argument has provided evidence of this.

“Encrypted and anonymous communications may frustrate law enforcement and counter-terrorism officials, and they complicate surveillance, but State authorities have not generally identified situations — even in general terms, given the potential need for confidentiality — where a restriction has been necessary to achieve a legitimate goal,” the report states.

Kaye also wrote that states downplay their arsenal of “traditional non-digital tools in law enforcement and counter-terrorism efforts, including transnational cooperation.”

A month ago, U.S. Representatives grilled the FBI on its encryption stance, one that has had FBI Director James B. Comey saying that encryption was taking Americans to a place that “we shouldn't go without careful thought and debate as a country.”

During the Representatives' hearing, no one could cite a feasible alternative to encryption, and no one believed a technically secure backdoor could be built.

Kaye pointed this fact out, as well, and said that backdoors “invariably undermine the security of all users online” because it can be accessed by people other than government entities.

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