The encryption debate between Apple CEO Tim Cook and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continues to rage, and other nations are taking notice.
Just yesterday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein cautioned the American government regarding the precedent it might be setting depending on how it moves forward with the investigation.
“In order to address a security-related issue related to encryption in one case, the authorities risk unlocking a Pandora’s Box that could have extremely damaging implications for the human rights of many millions of people, including their physical and financial security,” he warned.
It’ snot that the High Commissioner for Human Rights doesn’t support the FBI in its investigation of the tragic San Bernardino attacks; on the contrary, he has stated that the FBI deserves support in its efforts to combat terrorism through finding more information about recruitment, deployment of teams, and the like. However, he also believes that the forced decryption of consumer information by the government by the biggest tech country in the world could enable more rogue countries to crack down on their own citizens, who might need encryption to safely dissent to human rights violations enacted by their totalitarian governments.
For this very reason, the United States is not the first country to pressure Google and BlackBerry to expose customer information for the sake of mass surveillance, as Al-Hussein pointed out.
Just last year, the Pakistani government ran into a heated debate with Blackberry during which Blackberry threatened to pull its presence from Pakistan all together rather than comply with the government’s demand to access its servers for the sake of surveillance. In addition, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority requires that private users receive prior approval for the use of VPNs and encryption.
Google has faced pressure from China to censor its search engines, and China apparently requires all encryption products sold and used within the state to adhere to government-approved algorithms that haven’t been peer reviewed for security.
In Iran, all IP addresses operating from within the country must be publicly registered, and those using cybercafes are required to provide their real names when using a computer.
Bolivia and Brazil prohibit anonymous speech all together.
Even Germany’s central bank, Buba, requires that those using encryption receive regulatory authority.
A variety of studies have been done regarding the relationship between consumer access to encryption and human rights, with the general trend being a lack of access to encryption being correlated to increased government surveillance and decreased human rights. A fair amount of privacy and human rights advocates have pointed this out.
“The high commissioner is right to raise concerns about the serious global human rights ramifications of this case,” Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program, stated in support. He reiterated the risk of “helping authoritarian regimes, as well as the threat to privacy and cybersecurity for millions around the world.”
Spokesperson for the Electronic Frontier Foundation Karen Gullo had this to say: “We believe that compelling Apple to build a backdoor for its own product actually undermines the security and personal safety of millions of Americans and others around the world, especially those living under authoritarian regimes… by creating the legal precedent, by weakening the trust users have in software updates supposedly authorized by companies, and by building the technology itself.”