Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, A/HRC/29/32, 22 May 2015
1. Contemporary digital technologies offer Governments, corporations, criminals and pranksters unprecedented capacity to interfere with the rights to freedom of opinion and expression. Online censorship, mass and targeted surveillance and data collection, digital attacks on civil society and repression resulting from online expression force individuals around the world to seek security to hold opinions without interference and seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds. Many seek to protect their security through encryption, the scrambling of data so only intended recipients may access it, which may be applied to data in transit (e.g., e-mail, messaging, Internet telephony) and at rest (e.g., hard drives, cloud services). Others seek additional protection in anonymity, using sophisticated technologies to disguise their identity and digital footprint. Encryption and anonymity, today’s leading vehicles for online security, provide individuals with a means to protect their privacy, empowering them to browse, read, develop and share opinions and information without interference and enabling journalists, civil society organizations, members of ethnic or religious groups, those persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, activists, scholars, artists and others to exercise the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
II. Secure and private communication in the digital age
B. Uses of the technologies
12. Encryption and anonymity, separately or together, create a zone of privacy to protect opinion and belief. For instance, they enable private communications and can shield an opinion from outside scrutiny, particularly important in hostile political, social, religious and legal environments. Where States impose unlawful censorship through filtering and other technologies, the use of encryption and anonymity may empower individuals to circumvent barriers and access information and ideas without the intrusion of authorities. Journalists, researchers, lawyers and civil society rely on encryption and anonymity to shield themselves (and their sources, clients and partners) from surveillance and harassment. The ability to search the web, develop ideas and communicate securely may be the only way in which many can explore basic aspects of identity, such as one’s gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin or sexuality. Artists rely on encryption and anonymity to safeguard and protect their right to expression, especially in situations where it is not only the State creating limitations but also society that does not tolerate unconventional opinions or expression.
Link to full text of the report: Report-SRFoE-2015-eng