UNESCO advocates encryption and safety of Journalists in the digital age at RightsCon 2017 in Brussels

04 April 2017

Encryption is important for the work of journalists, and for citizens more broadly. This was the gist of a UNESCO panel at RightsCon in Brussels last week.

Following the release of a new UNESCO publication “Human rights and encryption”, supported by German Federal Foreign Office, six panelists debated how encryption could help protect privacy and advance free expression online.

UNESCO’s Guy Berger, the moderator, introduced the session by highlighting a quote from the publication that « policy on encryption should be fact-based and not fear based ».  

M. Frank LaRue, UNESCO’s Assistant Director General for Communication and Information made opening remarks about the importance of Internet as a necessary tool to freedom of expression. Because journalists have the right to keep their sources and their research private, Mr La Rue argued that encryption served as a key enabler in this regard.

Joris van Hoboken, one of the authors of the UNESCO publication, summarized the importance of the deployment of encryption in various services - as well as for the media and communication landscape.

Cryptographic methods could help to “guarantee diverse properties of information and communication, not only confidentiality but also privacy, authenticity, availability, integrity, anonymity”, he noted.

Sylvia Grundmann, Head of Media and Internet Division at Council of Europe, praised the new publication, and described encryption as “an enabler for the crucial function of journalism as a watchdog of democracy”. Protection of confidentiality of journalists’ sources had been established by the European Court of Human Rights, she noted.    

Victor Novikov from Access Now focused on the technological aspect of encryption and reminded the audience about the importance of developing accessible cryptographic tools. He also cautioned that encryption was only one of the components within broader digital security practices.

Deborah Brown from the Association for Progressive Communications stated that civil society supported strong encryption, and added that this was also important to consider from the point of view of gender specific protection.

Walid al Saqaf from the Internet Society concluded the panel by highlighting the importance of encryption as a way to build more trust on the Internet. He also pointed out several challenges posed by encryption such as illegitimate access.

To read the publication online: Wolfgang Schulz and Joris van Hoboken. Human Rights and Encryption, UNESCO Series on Internet Freedom, 2016.