New U.N. report calls encryption an essential service to human rights

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A recent report from the United Nation’s Human Rights Council is calling out to recognize encryption technologies as being essential to the protection of international human rights in regards to freedom of speech.

The report’s author David Kaye, explains the U.N.’s defense of encryption and data-scrambling technologies as being vital tools to protect personal opinions from external scrutiny from possible hostile groups, political or other.

“Encryption and anonymity enable individuals to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age and, as such, deserve strong protection,”

Encryption technologies, such as VPN services allow for certain online traffic and activity to be locked and inaccessible by outside parties. Encryption can be applied to text messaging services and apps, email, or in the case of VPNs, all of your online web traffic, including websites, downloads and uploads.

Recently, many U.S. tech giants have faced opposition and criticism from government officials for not being granted backdoor access to encrypted systems in the name of national security. But the U.N. states that governments have various alternative tools from wiretapping, GPS tracking, data mining and even traditional and proven surveillance methods to apply without undermining the privacy of all citizens. Kaye states –

“In the contemporary technological environment, intentionally compromising encryption, even for arguably legitimate purposes, weakens everyone’s security online.”

Officials say that there should be a way to decrypt data if an individual is suspected of committing crimes, but doing so would create the risk that the keys could be leaked, stolen, or used by criminals themselves without being detected. It would undermine the whole technology.

Kaye also underlined the fact that most governments also utilize encryption themselves to protect secret files and operations. Ordering the technology industry to drop encryption or provide them access to all keys is a tad hypocritical. However the report does state that some cases could warrant access to personal data, where a court-order for decryption would have to be passed by law, in case by case individual requests that hold a valid warrant.

The problem remains that service provides themselves cannot decrypt their keys, and that is the way it needs to be. But even if it was possible, officials remain opposed to having to pass through court of law to be granted access to private online data. Authorities argue that warrants are not effective and block them from gaining incriminating evidence. But this is where a red flag is raised in regards to mass data collection and surveillance and why it should be avoided at all costs.

Various countries around the world have far worse political climates where netizens heavily depend on encryption tools to protect their freedom of speech and liberties, as well as having an uncensored access to the World Wide Web. Kaye warns against the United States adopting laws and tools to circumvent encryption, as it would inevitably influence authoritarian nations to do the same.

If you’re worried about your privacy, check out our review of the best VPN providers.

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