The new international cybercrime treaty won’t protect us, instead endangers our rights
In February 2024, after three years of negotiations, the United Nations (UN) will present a new international treaty to fight cybercrime. However, expert organizations and activists from around the world warn that the document contains significant flaws that could be used to justify human rights abuses. With little time left before negotiations wrap up, States have been unable to ensure a set of minimum requirements for the agreement to guarantee democratic coexistence and respect for fundamental rights.
The treaty gets several things wrong. In its current form, the agreement lacks sufficient human rights safeguards to prevent it from being used to restrict civil and political rights, such as freedom of speech online. It also lacks effective gender perspective, opening the door to the persecution of women and LGBTQI people, as shown in a study conducted by Derechos Digitales and APC.
On the contrary, currently the broad scope of treaty could limit freedom of speech by punishing legitimate speech under the guise of fighting cybercrime, as extensively warned by international human rights organizations. Furthermore, the agreement justifies the implementation of greater capabilities for state surveillance of online activities and facilitates cooperation between States for gathering and sharing personal information on citizens, without the controls needed to prevent abuses, and for the investigation of “serious” crimes defined by national laws, even if they contradict human rights laws. This could include, for example, revealing personal identities or metadata by applying problematic domestic laws to acts like raising a rainbow flag, being LGBTQ+, or insulting a monarch in social media.
In its current version, the cybercrime treaty, far from being a tool that guarantees people greater security online, has become a threat to the exercise of human rights, both in countries with fragile democracies and in those with a history of techno-authoritarianism.
An international cybercrime treaty drafted at the UN cannot disregard the due defense and promotion of human rights. We issue a call to States not to make this mistake and, when they adopt a tool for prosecuting computer-related crimes, to ensure it guarantees each person the full exercise of their fundamental rights.
Why do we oppose the new international cybercrime treaty?
The cybercrime treaty currently being negotiated at the United Nations lacks robust human rights safeguards, which will allow it to be invoked to prosecute and punish legitimate acts, such as expressing political dissent.
The cybercrime treaty promoted by the United Nations does not effectively mainstream gender. This facilitates criminalizing women and LGBTQIA+ people, undermining the struggle for equal rights.
The cybercrime treaty includes crimes that infringe on freedom of expression, as various international organizations have warned. This is contrary to the UN mission: a treaty cannot be approved that legitimizes human rights violations.
The cybercrime treaty being negotiated at the United Nations legitimizes government surveillance of online activities for the investigation of any crime, cyber or not, and even if those are inconsistent with human rights law. It facilitates cooperation between States for collecting and sharing personal information on citizens, without adequate safeguards to prevent police abuse of power.
In its current form, the cybercrime treaty, far from being a tool that guarantees people greater security online, has become a threat to the exercise of human rights, particularly in countries with fragile democracies and histories of authoritarianism.
What requirements should an international cybercrime treaty meet?
A cybercrime treaty must guarantee greater security online for all people, defending and promoting the exercise of human rights.
A cybercrime treaty must have an effective, intersectional gender perspective permeating each of its articles, guaranteeing that the regulations contribute to fulfillment of human rights and gender equality. This includes provisions targeting the protection of historically excluded persons, such as woman and LGBTQI people.
A cybercrime treaty must specifically address computer-related crimes, providing concrete, useful solutions to a real problem, rather than vague provisions that can be used to prosecute and spy on individuals for legitimate actions on or off the internet.
A cybercrime treaty must ensure that it limits government powers to surveil online activities, as well as to gather, process and share citizens’ personal information with other States, to avoid abuses.
These provisions are essential to any international regulation of cybercrime, particularly one drafted at the United Nations. Without them, the process should not continue.
What can you do to help ensure the United Nations cybercrime treaty guarantees human rights?
We need you! At this stage in the process your help is essential in sharing information and raising awareness about the dangers the cybercrime treaty in its current form represents, as well as the need for it to incorporate a robust human rights perspective. To do this, you can:
Publish information on the cybercrime treaty on your website, your blog or your social media. If you need help, you can copy or adapt the texts we have prepared, along with images for social media.
Contact your political representatives. Tell them what is happening and ask them to demand the country maintains a full commitment to defending human rights. You can use the draft we have prepared if you need help.
Contact the media, asking them to inform citizens about what is happening at the United Nations with the cybercrime debate. If you like, you can use the press release we have prepared.
If you have any other ideas, please implement them. And let us know what you are doing; we want to keep a record of actions and support you in whatever you may need. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Do you want to launch a social media campaign? Check out our suggested messages. You can adapt them to meet your needs. Download them here.
- Also, you can pair the messages with the images we have produced. Download them here.
- Do you want to contact the press? You can use our model press release and adapt it as you see fit. Download it here.
- Do you need more information? You can check out the following documents:
- Official site: UN Ad Hoc Committee on Cybercrime.
- Column: Por qué el nuevo tratado sobre cibercrimen que se discute en la ONU nos pone en riesgo.
- Column: El tratado sobre cibercrimen que se discute en ONU amenaza al ejercicio de derechos en línea.
- Study: When protection becomes an excuse for criminalization. Gender considerations on cybercrime frameworks.
- News report: Latest UN Cybercrime Treaty draft a ‘significant step in the wrong direction,’ experts warn.
- Press release: Cybersecurity Tech Accord expresses continued concern over latest draft of UN Cybercrime Treaty, calls for extensive changes.
- Input during the process: Privacy International’s Comments on the Revised Draft Text of the UN Cybercrime Convention (November 2023).
- Input during the process: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (April and September 2023).
- Input during the process: UN Women (September 2023).
- Input during the process: Derechos Digitales and APC (April 2023), Derechos Digitales, R3D, HIPANDETEC, Hiperderecho (September 2023).
- Input during the process: Article 19 and Human Rights Watch (September 2023).
- Input during the process: Privacy International and Electronic Frontier Foundation (July 2023).
- Input during the process: Access Now (August 2023).
- Column: UN cybercrime treaty: A menace in the making.
- News report: Cibercrime e direitos humanos: os perigos do Tratado da ONU.
- News item: Newest UN cybercrime treaty draft slammed.
- Column: UN: Draft Cybercrime Convention remains seriously flawed.
- Column: Latest Draft of UN Cybercrime Treaty is a big step backward.
- Podcast: Would the proposed UN Cybercrime Treaty hurt more than it helps?
- Study: UN Cybercrime Treaty: Summary of the Global Initiative-TOC’s key positions.
- Column: Los Estados tienen la obligación de reforzar y no poner en peligro los derechos humanos.
- Column: Solicitamos a la ONU garantías de derechos humanos en tratado de “ciberdelincuencia.”
- Column: Las ruedas que mueven al mundo: el futuro tratado de “ciberdelincuencia” de las Naciones Unidas.
- Column: Ola Bini: Daños Colaterales.