The report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (“SR on FOE”), David Kaye, regarding the use of encryption and anonymity in digital communications, is now available. The SR on FOE submitted this report to the UN Human Rights Council for consideration during its upcoming 29th session; the report is scheduled for discussion on June 17.
The report recognizes the essential role of encryption and anonymity in realizing human rights protected under international law, as such technology “provide[s] individuals and groups with a zone of privacy online to hold opinions and exercise freedom of expression without arbitrary and unlawful interference or attacks.” The SR on FOE makes a number of important recommendations, including that states should not attempt to weaken digital security standards, and that all stakeholders, including corporate actors, should encourage ubiquitous “use of encryption and anonymity tools and better digital literacy.”
This report comes at a crucial time, as governments around the world are ramping up measures to limit access to robust encryption and anonymity online. The report provides an important foundation for ongoing work of civil society and others to ensure public access to digital security. The SR on FOE has also issued a reference document alongside this report, highlighting additional materials relevant to the issue, including work by the Citizen Lab.
Previously, in response to the SR on FOE’s call for input from civil society in preparation of his report, the Citizen Lab, together with independent researcher Collin Anderson, prepared a joint submission on “The need for democratization of digital security solutions to ensure the right to freedom of expression” (February 2015). Senior Legal Advisor Sarah McKune has also explored the interplay between encryption and anonymity and the right to science in an opinion piece featured in Just Security.
For more background on the role of the SR on FOE in digital rights, and methods for civil society engagement with UN mechanisms, see “Utilizing the UN Human Rights Mechanisms for the Advancement of Digital Rights” by Sarah McKune as part of the Freedom Online Coalition’s blog series.