In this year, in earlier February a criminal group in Europe was arrested for some torture, murders, drug trafficking, and other types of crimes. Out of the many pieces of evidence, the police acquired 44 mobile phones, all equipped with a Sky ECC which is a Canadian encrypted messaging app. Human rights are a crucial aspect of freedom of expression. With the evolution of the digital era, the application of encryption and human rights has significantly increased and it lowers the chances of a hacker gaining access to the sensitive data within your emails. In 1994, President Bill Clinton had signed an order which had classified encryption technology as munitions.
The police managed to access the app and searched the phones and found many incriminating photos, including one out of two decapitated men.
Naturally, once again, this opened the debate of whether encryption is a useful tool or a particularly critical tool? that all private persons may use to save their online privacy or it only serves the criminal milieu and makes the work of law enforcement not necessarily difficult.
Criminalizing Encryption Tools
These types of Cases are not rare in the recent digital age and they generally serve the opponents of this encryption tool to criminalize it and just make the usage of encrypted tools illegal.
Unfortunately, this encryption is commonly used by criminals and it is often repeated by the governments and some big technology companies.
Sky ECC, for example, experienced the fate of various other encrypted tools that had the misfortune that it was being used by the criminals. The service was just like completely shut down and yet their domain was seized by the FBI.
The idea that whether you are using encryption, you are impulsively committing or trying to cover a crime, that is completely wrong itself.
Human Rights Defenders on Encryption
We know what most governments usually have to say about encryption tools.
Where do these human rights defenders stand on the issue?
In 2016, Apple impaired the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI, to give the encryption back-doors to their phones at the court.
Human Rights Watch, also considers a pro-encryption stance, by saying that “Strong encryption is very crucial to save and protect communications and human rights and cybersecurity in the digital era.”
Encryption and the Right to Privacy
As per Article 12 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), “No one should be subjected to arbitrary interference concerning his privacy, home, family or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his reputation and honor. Each and everyone has a right to the protection of the law against any such attacks.”
On 10th December 1948, when the declaration was first accepted, encryption was not at all used by civilians in day-to-day life and it was not at the peak as it is now.
But, we have to acknowledge e-communications and that encryption is more steadily and readily accessible and used by private individuals and not only law enforcement or the military.
The issue here is that the UDHR, like many other statutes which are supposed to save, protect and preserve privacy and free speech, is not equipped well enough to deal with mail and other e-communications. Encryption protects personal emails by making them impossible to decipher so that even if your system is hacked, it will be impossible for the hacker to read your messages because the content will be unreadable. In end-to-end encryption, data is encrypted and decrypted only at the endpoints, unreadable to service providers in transit, and decrypted at the endpoint only when the end receiver receives it.
Is There a Need for Stricter Encryption Policies?
It cannot be questioned that criminals are using encryption tools at an increasing rate but that is not any reason to ban them.
They simply adopted the technology before honest and responsible citizens who have a legal human right to save and protect their online security and personal data from unlawful surveillance and use.
We have already seen that international human rights law and human rights activists support encryption and its use to protect privacy and security on the Internet.
As we have seen from the example at the start of this article, encrypted apps can hide crucial data which law enforcement may require to access data that is saved by encryption to apprehend criminals.