The United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a new report saying encryption, or encoding messages so that only the desired recipient can read them, is necessary to protect the right to freedom of expression throughout the world. The report went on to warn that countries around the world are increasingly engaged in efforts to weaken private Internet security.
The 18-page report from special rapporteur David Kaye was published Thursday and is due to be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June.
“Encryption and anonymity, and the security concepts behind them, provide the privacy and security necessary for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression in the digital age,” Kaye wrote. “Such security may be essential for the exercise of other rights, including economic rights, privacy, due process, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the right to bodily integrity.”
The U.N. approved of decryption as long as it's done on a “case-by-case basis.” This is only the latest update in an ongoing debate over the best way for countries to balance security and personal privacy. Almost every prominent member of the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities have claimed that their inability to access users' smartphones and electronic communication – including users suspected of no wrongdoing – creates a threat for all Americans.
Most notably, Apple and Google entered the conversation when, by making it impossible for themselves to decode users' smartphone passcodes, they turned on encryption for millions of phones across the world. FBI Director James Comey was furious, and suggested that lawmakers may introduce a law to force companies to install so-called surveillance backdoors to give the government a point of entry.
Apple, Google and others signed a letter to President Obama earlier this month asking him to forego any executive action that would make back doors mandatory.