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Encryption necessary for free speech, says UN report

Posted by malcolm on Monday, June 1st, 2015 at 15:26

Encryption and anonymity are “necessary for the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age”, says a United Nations report.

The security provided by such technologies “may be essential for the exercise of other rights, including economic rights, privacy, due process, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the right to life and bodily integrity”, argues the report.

Journalists, researchers, lawyers and civil society rely on encryption and anonymity to shield themselves (and their sources, clients and partners) from surveillance and harassment. The ability to search the web, develop ideas and communicate securely may be the only way in which many can explore basic aspects of identity, such as one’s gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin or sexuality. Artists rely on encryption and anonymity to safeguard and protect their right to expression, especially in situations where it is not only the State creating limitations but also society that does not tolerate unconventional opinions or expression.

The report, authored by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, goes on to make a number of strong recommendations for states on how to approach encryption.

Kaye cautions against legal restrictions on encryption and anonymity.

States should not restrict encryption and anonymity, which facilitate and often enable the rights to freedom of opinion and expression. Blanket prohibitions fail to be necessary and proportionate. States should avoid all measures that weaken the security that individuals may enjoy online, such as backdoors, weak encryption standards and key escrows. In addition, States should refrain from making the identification of users a condition for access to digital communications and online services and requiring SIM card registration for mobile users.

The rapporteur also argues against proposals to weaken encryption standards to provide government “back-doors” into encrypted communications.

…compromised encryption cannot be kept secret from those with the skill to find and exploit the weak points, whether State or non-State, legitimate or criminal. It is a seemingly universal position among technologists that there is no special access that can be made available only to government authorities, even ones that, in principle, have the public interest in mind. In the contemporary technological environment, intentionally compromising encryption, even for arguably legitimate purposes, weakens everyone’s security online.

Furthermore, governments have plenty of other means for investigating crimes.

Governments have at their disposal a broad set of alternative tools, such as wiretapping, geo-location and tracking, data-mining, traditional physical surveillance and many others, which strengthen contemporary law enforcement and counter-terrorism.

The report is due to be presented to the UN’s Human Rights Council later this month.

For more information, see: UN Report: Encryption And Anonymity Deserve ‘Strong Protection’ - Techdirt

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