Encryption and anonymity tools, which help protect individuals’ private data and communications, are essential to basic human rights, according to a report released Friday by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
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Issued while U.S. lawmakers are engaged in heated debates over online privacy, data collection, and so-called ‘back-door’ surveillance methods, the document recommends holding proposed limits on encryption and anonymity to a strict standard: “If they interfere with the right to hold opinions, restrictions must not be adopted.”
“The ability to search the web, develop ideas and communicate securely may be the only way in which many can explore basic aspects of identity, such as one’s gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin or sexuality.”
—UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye
The report, written by UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye, is based on questionnaire responses submitted by 16 countries, opinions submitted by 30 non-government stakeholders, and statements made at a meeting of experts in Geneva in March.
The document reads, in part: “Encryption and anonymity, today’s leading vehicles for online security, provide individuals with a means to protect their privacy, empowering them to browse, read, develop and share opinions and information without interference and enabling journalists, civil society organizations, members of ethnic or religious groups, those persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, activists, scholars, artists and others to exercise the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.”
Kaye makes specific mention of tech tools such as Tor, a free software that directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer network consisting of more than 6,000 servers to conceal users’ location and usage from anyone conducting online surveillance.
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