UNESCO advocates for encryption and human rights at the 39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners

19 October 2017


Hong Xue, Jan Kleijssen, Marc Rotenberg and Xianhong Hu
© John Lo

“Strong encryption is needed to protect privacy and freedom expression in the digital age” concluded panellists at UNESCO session on privacy and encryption during the 39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (“ICDPPC”), held in Hong Kong, China, on 29 September 2017.

Given encryption’s crucial role in enabling human rights in the digital age, UNESCO took the opportunity to engage with the privacy community during the 39th ICDPPC.

“UNESCO recognises that encryption can be an enabler of privacy protection and freedom of expression,” stated UNESCO representative Xianhong Hu. She stressed this position is in line with Organization’s new approach on Internet issues, including the adoption of the Internet Universality framework.

Xianhong Hu also presented new publication “Human Rights and Encryption” which analyses the relevance of encryption to human rights in the media and communications field and examines several country case studies, focusing on their encryption policies.

One main recommendation of the publication based on the findings is to encourage stakeholders to develop smart technologies and more convenient encryption tools to support privacy and freedom of expression, and protect journalists, media actors, vulnerable users and minorities.

“I like to draw your attention to challenges to protect safety of communication posed by emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things, big data and artificial intelligence” stressed Marc Rotenberg, the President of  Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) . He called for “freedom to encrypt” as an important premise to guarantee users freedom to privacy and expression in the digital age.

“The Council of Europe has consistently stressed the importance of encryption to protect citizens against crime and to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders”, said Jan Kleijssen as the Council of Europe's Director of Information Society and Action against Crime. Professor Xue Hong from Beijing Normal University also shed light on the data breach risk posed by law enforcement using backdoor access to obtain information.

 As a concluding remark, all speakers agreed that a multi-stakeholder approach should be taken to enhance collaboration between data protection authorities, law enforcement, civil society and the private sector.

UNESCO publication “Human Rights and Encryption” is available at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002465/246527E.pdf