Freedom House Submission to OHCHR | Freedom House

Freedom House Submission to OHCHR

Read the Report

Freedom House Submission to UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression

In response to the request from the UN Special Rapporteur for the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, for comments on the use of encryption and anonymity in digital communications, Freedom House has submitted a report highlighting the need to protect the right to anonymous communication and the use of encryption tools in the digital age.

The ability to communicate privately and anonymously online is a necessary requirement for the full realization of the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

Journalists, human rights defenders, and lawyers depend on access to encryption tools to ensure that their online communications are confidential and secure. Likewise, marginalized groups may find lower barriers to freedom of expression when individuals are confident of the security and privacy of their communications. Freedom House finds, however, that a growing number of countries are restricting the right to privacy online.

Freedom House’s recommendations to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights include the following:

To the UN Human Rights Council:

  • Pass a resolution affirming that the right to anonymity is a fundamental and inalienable cornerstone to the internationally guaranteed rights of freedom of expression and belief; and, acknowledging that the ability to communicate privately and remain anonymous is essential to the work of certain sectors necessary for a democratic and just society.

To Governments:

  • Recognize the important role that anonymity and the use of encryption technology for private communication play in enabling journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and non-governmental organizations to conduct their work safely and effectively.
  • Repeal or amend laws and regulations that criminalize the use of encryption technology or anonymous communication, and ensure that all laws and regulations adhere to internationally recognized principles protecting the right to freedom of expression.
  • Collaborate with the private sector and civil society to design laws and regulations that adequately protect citizens from legitimate threats to public safety and security, while also upholding the right to freedom of expression.

To the Private Sector:

  • Turn to international multi-stakeholder initiatives and guidelines when determining anonymity and privacy policies and industry best practices.
  • Include input from civil society when designing anonymity and privacy policies, making particular effort to understand how policies could affect civil society’s ability to operate effectively and safely; take measures to include input from a broad range of civil society, including groups working with typically marginalized and vulnerable populations.
  • Promote transparency around efforts to limit or prevent anonymity by publicly publishing the number and type of requests received by governments asking to reveal the identity and activity of users.  

To Civil Society:

  • Recognize that civil society has a unique perspective on the potential and the perils of an unrestricted internet; use this perspective to develop and propose constructive solutions to the concerns of governments about anonymous communication and the use of encryption software.
  • Pledge to work within the boundaries of the law when laws and regulations adhere to the internationally guaranteed rights of freedom of expression and belief.