UN Cybercrime Treaty Could Endanger Web Security


This week, the United Nations convened member states to continue its years-long negotiations on the UN Cybercrime Treaty, titled “Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies for Criminal Purposes.” 



As more aspects of our lives intersect with the digital sphere, law enforcement around the world has increasingly turned to electronic evidence to investigate and disrupt criminal activity. Google takes the threat of cybercrime very seriously, and dedicates significant resources to combating it. When governments send Google legal orders to disclose user data in connection with their investigations, we carefully review those orders to make sure they satisfy applicable laws, international norms, and Google’s policies. We also regularly report the number of these orders in our Transparency Report



To ensure that transnational legal demands are issued consistent with rule of law, we have long called for an international framework for digital evidence that includes robust due process protections, respects human rights (including the right to free expression), and aligns with existing international norms. This is particularly important in the case of transnational criminal investigations, where the legal protections  in one jurisdiction may not align with those in others. 



Such safeguards aren’t just important to ensuring free expression and human rights, they are also critical to protecting web security. Too often, as we know well from helping stand up the Security Researcher Legal Defense Fund, individuals working to advance cybersecurity for the public good end up facing criminal charges. The Cybercrime Treaty should not criminalize the work of legitimate cybersecurity researchers and penetration testers, which is designed to protect individual systems and  the web as a whole.  



UN Member States have an opportunity to strengthen global cybersecurity by adopting a treaty that encourages the criminalization of the most egregious and systemic activities — on which all parties can agree — while adopting a framework for sharing digital evidence that is transparent, grounded in the rule of law, based on pre-existing international frameworks like the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and aligned with principles of necessity and proportionality. At the same time, Member States should avoid attempts to criminalize activities that raise significant freedom of expression issues, or that actually undercut the treaty’s goal of reducing cybercrime. That will require strengthening critical guardrails and protections.  



We urge Member States to heed calls from civil society groups to address critical gaps in the Treaty and revise the text to protect users and security professionals — not endanger the security of the web.  


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Article_Author: Kimberly Samra