09.12.2016 - Communication & Information Sector

UNESCO launches new publication on Human Rights and Encryption at 11th IGF


A well-attended session special session at the 11th Internet Governance Forum in Guadalajara, Mexico, was the occasion on 7 December for announcing a new book in the UNESCO Internet Freedom series.

Describing the new study, "Human Rights and Encryption”, one of the co-authors Prof Wolfgang Schulz said: "Encryption impacts both freedom of expression and privacy; encryption and anonymity empowers journalists to browse, read, develop and share opinions and information without interference". He cautioned against restrictions put on encryption on the basis of theoretical speculation of risks, rather than evidence.

The research was authored by Schulz and Joris van Hoboken, with financial support by Federal Foreign Office of Germany.

Mr Guy Berger, UNESCO Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development explained that the publication was conducted in the context of UNESCO's endorsement of Connecting the Dots Outcome document that “recognizes the role that anonymity and encryption can play as enablers of privacy protection and freedom of expression, and facilitates dialogue on these issues”.

In his presentation, Prof Schulz pointed out that encryption, as topical issue in the current global discussion on Internet governance, plays a key role in protecting freedom of expression, privacy and other human rights online. He said that on the issue of encryption, there is no tension between freedom of speech and protection of privacy.

The study urges the use of smart technologies to make encryption as convenient as possible, on the basis that this would support privacy and freedom of expression, including special protection measures for journalists, media actors and vulnerable users such as women and girls and minorities.

The research further recommends that governments should include human rights aspects into their encryption policy and provide transparency. It also suggests that privacy protection should not just rest on the users making use of cryptographic technologies, and that communicating the risks and spreading knowledge on the technologies should be a part of a national policy.

Other panellists at the session suggested that encryption should not be examined in isolation but considered in a broad and holistic strategy of protecting digital security for journalists and other communities.

It was also suggested that media outlets and Internet intermediaries should take more responsibility of developing and deploying digital security protocols and measures.

Speaker Marc Rotenberg shared his vision that encryption is no longer just about privacy but also about security in a world of Internet of Things; devices like cell phones do not contain simply private messages but keys that unlock data in remote servers, doors on cars and home.

He acknowledged that strong encryption could inhibit law enforcement from accessing digital content on a mobile phone, but said the greater benefit was to protect the much greater number of people whose phones were stolen. 

The workshop was attended by above 60 participants who shared their concerns over encryption from the different aspects of governments, technical community, private sector and civil society.

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