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The UN Is Threatening Privacy Under Pretense of New Cybercrime Treaty

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The US digital rights group EFF is describing the latest UN Cybercrime Treaty draft as “a significant step backward” and a case of “perilously broadening its scope beyond the cybercrimes specifically defined in the convention, encompassing a long list of non-cybercrimes.”

This “dance” – with some reported progress, for things to then again get worse – is not exactly new in the now lengthy process of negotiating the document, amid criticism not only from observers among the involved rights non-profits, but also UN member-countries.

EFF is also convinced that these latest developments are not accidental, i.e., a case of oversight, but rather an essentially purposeful wrong step that diminishes chances of the treaty, once/if adopted being the result of proper consensus.

When it all started, the Treaty was presented as a “standardized” manner for the world to combat cybercrime.

What has been happening in the meanwhile, though, is a seemingly never-ending stream of additions and expansions of the document’s original powers, to the point where it has now, in the words of EFF, “morphed into an expansive surveillance treaty.”

A major concern is what EFF calls possible overreach as national and international investigations are carried out. And instead of improving on these concerns, the new draft is said to have held on to past controversial rules, only to add even more.

This time, it’s in the form of “allowing states to compel engineers or employees to undermine security measures, posing a threat to encryption.”

Specifically, the UN’s newest version of the proposal, if adopted, would mean that data that is located abroad could be accessed even if that violated the host nation’s privacy protections.

In these portions that are of grave concern to rights groups, the draft builds on previous contentious provisions, namely, broadening the scope of cross-border investigations (collection and sharing of evidence) so that it includes any crime deemed serous – and that scope includes instances of crimes (whose definition) “blatantly violates human rights law.”

Now, these powers are extended, such that even crimes not covered by the previous versions of the treaty can be investigated and prosecuted; hence the allegation of overreach.

The reason EFF takes all this as a major step back in the tortuous process is the very nature of the disagreements: the key one on which member-countries can’t see eye to eye has to do with the future treaty’s scope; and then there’s the question of whether human rights matter at all in the big picture here.

“(The latest draft) is primed to facilitate abuses on a global scale, through extensive cross border powers to investigate virtually any imaginable ‘crime’ – like peaceful dissent or expression of sexual orientation – while undermining the treaty’s purpose of addressing genuine cybercrime,” commented Human Rights Watch Associate Director Deborah Brown, adding:

“Governments should not rush to conclude this treaty without ensuring that it elevates, rather than sacrifices, our fundamental rights.”

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