IGF 2022 WS #493 Is encryption a human right? Voices of human rights actors

Thursday, 1st December, 2022 (07:45 UTC) - Thursday, 1st December, 2022 (09:15 UTC)
Large Briefing Room

Organizer 1: Vladimirova Anastasia, Independent
Organizer 2: Biyani Neeti, Internet Society

Speaker 1: Vladimirova Anastasia, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 2: Biyani Neeti, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Namrata Maheshwari, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Mallory Knodel, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Vladimirova Anastasia, Civil Society, Eastern European Group

Online Moderator

Biyani Neeti, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Vladimirova Anastasia, Civil Society, Eastern European Group


Round Table - Circle - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

International standards: Does encryption require special protections under international human rights law due to its enabling and protective functions for exercise of human rights online, particularly for, but not limited to, the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy? How should different stakeholders approach encryption in the drafting and shaping of the international cybersecurity agreements? Enabling safety and security: How can the multistakeholder community ensure that the implementation of laws and policies that restrict encryption does not exacerbate the threats and challenges already faced by civil society and human rights actors?

Connection with previous Messages: One of the messages in the IGF 2021 Outcomes in the "Trust, security, stability" issue reads as follows: "...cyber norms should include the views of all stakeholders (including victims, first responders, and frontline defenders) and address meaningfully their needs and responsibilities. Processes need to be based on research and analysis which include these communities." This proposal responds to this message by seeking to emphasize the perspectives of the human rights actors on the policies that govern the use of encryption as a tool that is essential in their work.


16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Targets: All over the world human rights defenders, activists, journalists and other civil society actors work in pursuit of the targets outlined in SDG 16. To do so effectively they rely on encryption every step of the way. Encryption enables human rights defenders to communicate safely and build strategies, protects sensitive data and evidence that can help achieve accountability and justice. Encryption empowers journalists and activists to expose wrongdoings and abuse of power while keeping their sources anonymous. More broadly, encryption empowers civil society to stay resilient in times of crisis and conflict. As such, encryption is at the core of the fight for human rights in the digital age, empowering civil society and human rights actors to continue with their important work despite the threats and challenges they face on a daily basis.


Human rights actors rely on encryption to protect themselves against an array of threats from authoritarian governments, businesses, as well as private and non-state actors. Encryption helps human rights actors to ensure their own and their colleagues’ security, to protect personal, valuable and sensitive data - all of which is essential for effective human rights work. Today both democratic and non-democratic governments invoke national security and counter-terrorism measures, among other reasons, to restrict the use of encrypted communications. This deliberate targeting of encryption oftentimes directly and disproportionately affects human rights actors and their work. The ability to exercise fundamental human rights, such as the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression, lies at the very core of human rights work. If we look at the rationales for both of these rights in the context of human rights work, we will see that they are not just closely interconnected with, but are also safeguarded by encryption due to its enabling and protective functions. It goes without saying that privacy and freedom of expression cannot be exercised to a full extent without encryption in today's digital world. Encryption is more than just a technology; it has occupied a central place in relation to many human rights. So is encryption an emerging fourth generation right? Should encryption have special protections under international human rights law? To answer these and other vital questions, this workshop aims to bring together civil society representatives who can speak first-hand to the vital role of encryption in human rights work. We will explore interconnectedness between encryption, privacy and freedom of expression to make a stronger case for the notion that encryption should be considered a human right due to its enabling and protective functions. We will also seek input from the multistakeholder community to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of this argument and seek areas of convergence between different perspectives. Finally, we will aim to identify and discuss opportunities to emphasise this idea in the ongoing encryption debates.

Expected Outcomes

The proposed workshop will kick start a closer collaboration between the organisers in an effort to amplify the voices from the human rights community. Shortly after the workshop an article with an overview of the discussion will be published; it will reconcile the arguments by different stakeholders and identify emerging challenges and questions. Further research into the use of encryption by human rights actors will be planned with the aim of informing ongoing conversations and debates with specific examples and case-studies from the human rights community.

Hybrid Format: As people arrive at the session offline and join online, before the moderation of discussion starts, the audience will be offered an opportunity to answer the key questions that the workshop intends to explore. This will give an idea about the perspective of the audience on the issue prior to the discussion. The audience will be encouraged to keep thinking about their answers throughout the discussion and will be invited to ask questions and share opinions in the Q&A part. At the end of the session, prior to the speakers' final remarks, the audience will be asked again to answer the same questions, so that the session participants and the audience can trace a dynamic, if any, in the change of views in the the audience throughout the session. The organisers will rely on the use of online tools, such as Mentimeter, to interact with the audience offline and online in the beginning and at the end of the session. Online participants will be able to share questions and opinions in the chat, and the Q&A time will be split equally to address questions and inputs shared online and offline. Tentative plan of the session: Intros 10 mins Roundtable discussion - 40 minutes Q&A and discussion - 30 mins Final remarks - 10 minutes

Additional links:

Global Encryption Coalition videos:


Supporting the LGBTQ+ community: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOfNIO5pQBE&ab_channel=GlobalEncryptionCoalition

Encryption for journalists: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOfNIO5pQBE&ab_channel=GlobalEncryptionCoalition

Ukraine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXJYazkg7JE&ab_channel=GlobalEncryptionCoalition

A/HRC/51/17: The right to privacy in the digital age https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/thematic-reports/ahrc5117-right-priv…


Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool.