Civil Society Coalition Calls on States to Promote Use of Strong Encryption

António Guterres, UN Secretary General
António Guterres, UN Secretary General

A coalition of civil society organizations have called on member states of the United Nations to promote the use of strong encryption in relevant policies and statements such as national cybersecurity strategies and policies, or through public statements in order to meet their obligation to ensure that the right to privacy is fulfilled in practice.

The civil society organizations also urged states to support better digital literacy at all levels and for all age groups in their countries, with a particular focus on the vulnerable and marginalized, and ensure that education on security measures is provided or available to individuals, including on how to take effective measures to protect the confidentiality, integrity and security of their communication.

They also advocated that states support the development, use and adoption of open source encryption software, through financial support or supporting the regular and independent maintenance and auditing of such software for vulnerabilities.

The recommendations are among those contained in the joint submissions by the organizations in response to a call by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights call for input to a report on the right to privacy in the digital age.

The organizations are Bytes for All in Pakistan; Coding Rights in Brazil; Derechos Digitales in Chile; Global Partners Digital (GPD) in the United Kingdom; the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANET) in Kenya; ICT Watch in Indonesia; Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in Nigeria; the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in Ghana; and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) in Malaysia.

In their 6-page joint submission, the organizations said although there are a wide range of issues which fall within the scope of privacy in the digital age, their submission focuses specifically on the privacy and security of personal information and communications, notably via encryption.

According to them, “Encryption plays a critical role in enabling privacy and other human rights, particularly freedom of expression, in a range of different countries and contexts. We have seen policies and proposals put forward by different governments around the world that would restrict the availability and utility use of strong encryption, undermining – and potentially eliminating – the opportunities that encryption provides for the protection and enjoyment of human rights including, for example vulnerable and marginalised groups.”

The organizations said “considering the growing reliance on data-driven technology, biometric data and other technologies such as the ‘Internet of Things’ or connected devices, we consider that it is increasingly crucial to support and recognise the role of strong encryption in helping promote and protect the right to privacy, along with the security of systems, devices and networks.”

They therefore set out their “understanding of the obligations of states on the issue of Encryption”, and highlighted examples of concerns as well as good practice, which they proposed should be reflected in the report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Please click CS_Response_on_right_to_privacy_in_the_digital_age_OHCHR_submission to download or access the full text of the Joint Submission