Essential the United Nations Include Human Rights Safeguards in Proposed UN Cybercrime Treaty

Posted January 13, 2022
By James L Turk

It is essential that the UN General Assembly Ad Hoc Committee responsible for drafting a potential United Nations Cybercrime Treaty ensure human rights protections are embedded in the final version.  

The Centre for Free Expression, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Human Rights Watch, along with nearly 130 other organizations and academics working in 56 countries, regions, or globally, are delivering that message through a jointly signed letter released today. The first session of the Ad Hoc Committee will begin on January 17th

The proposed treaty will likely deal with cybercrime, international cooperation, and access to potential digital evidence by law enforcement authorities, as well as human rights and procedural safeguards. UN member states have already written opinions discussing the scope of the treaty, and their proposals vary widely.

The world-wide group of organizations has asked that members include human rights considerations at every step in the drafting process. We also recommended that cross-border investigative powers include strong human rights safeguards, and that global civil society be provided opportunities to participate robustly in the development and drafting of any potential convention.

Failing to prioritize human rights and procedural safeguards in criminal investigations can have dire consequences.  As many countries have already abused their existing cybercrime laws to undermine human rights and freedoms and punish peaceful dissent, there is grave concerns that this Cybercrime Convention might become a powerful weapon for oppression. The realistic fear is that cross-border investigative powers without strong human rights safeguards will sweep away progress on protecting people’s privacy rights, creating a race to the bottom among jurisdictions with the weakest human rights protections.

All of us who signed the letter hope the Member States participating in the development and drafting of the treaty will recognize the urgency of the risks we mention, commit to include civil society in their upcoming discussions, and take our recommendations to heart.

The letter is available in English and Spanish, and will be available in other UN languages in due course.