Last week, a United Nations report finally said what many of us have been thinking for a long time: that the ability to stay anonymous online, and the ability to encrypt your data, should be considered basic human rights – and should be protected as such.
The report, from the body’s Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur, stated:
Encryption and anonymity, and the security concepts behind them, provide the privacy and security necessary for the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age.
The agency’s position is a very welcome one, especially as governments across the world are beginning to round on encryption with claims that it aids criminals and gets in the way of law enforcement doing their jobs. The FBI, the NSA and the British government have recently pushed for “encryption backdoors” which would allow governments and law enforcement to decrypt encrypted devices, a move which has been shot down as profoundly stupid by many security experts.
The UN report, however, claimed that this move was an affront to human rights:
Such security 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.
While the concept of backdoors to encryption has been criticized simply because it is impossible to have such a backdoor accessible to authorities that’s not susceptible to hackers, leaving the encryption pointless, it’s also been pointed out that widespread encryption actually fights against crime, in the form of financial and identity theft, hacking and security breaches.
As more pro-privacy individuals and human rights advocates stand against these proposals, it’s fantastic to see the UN come out on the side of privacy.