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UN Cybercrime Treaty Talks Highlight Human Rights

April 22, 2022


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Cited article by Tomaso Falchetta, Deborah Brown and Katitza Rodriguez, Just Security


HRRC continues monitoring the ongoing UN cybercrime treaty talks and is encouraged by the inclusion of human rights discussion around the treaty. Cybercrime is a growing issue that can have disastrous consequences for human rights, and discussions on establishing international treaties must be taken with care and consideration. This treaty will set the stage for future laws and court trials, and precise wording of the treaty will be critical in determining justice in the years to come.


Article Summary


At the same time as the emergency session to discuss Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the UN also began long-planned talks on international coordination to prevent and address cybercrime. The establishment of a treaty against cybercrime has been debated significantly, initially with a third of UN states opposing the treaty. One of the main objections to the initial proposal of a cybercrime treaty involved the lack of a definition of what cybercrime entailed. While there is majority agreement on broad categories of cybercrime, hesitation comes when the subject is left open for interpretation.


Some states are pushing to prevent the treaty from including language that would prevent content-specific criminalization, which would condemn cyber restrictions on freedoms of expression and speech. These objections are mostly from states which utilize state-sponsored disinformation and punish or outlaw free press and activism. If the terminology is too broad, states could utilize this treaty to continue punishing freedom of speech under the guise of preventing terrorism or stopping those wishing the state harm.


Many states are advocating for similar rights enshrined in existing human rights doctrines to be specifically included and supported in the cybercrime treaty. Of note were specific references to support state obligations to protect the privacy of personal data, and the special attentions to how cybercrimes can target women and girls. While there is broad support for a human rights focused approach to the cybercrime treaty, there still needs to be further discussion on the details and exact definitions to include.