Encryption as a Basic Human Right?


The concept of human rights brings to mind the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and a host of other basic freedoms that humans are entitled to simply because they are human.

But encryption?

Amnesty International is making the case that encryption, too, should be considered a fundamental right. “People everywhere should be able to encrypt their communications and personal data as an essential protection of their rights to privacy and free speech,” the group said in a March 21 report

The battle between Apple Inc. and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has brought the encryption debate into the limelight. Many technology companies back Apple’s stance that the government shouldn’t be able to force a company to create a “backdoor.” On the other side of the debate, law enforcement agencies and government hawks argue that the value of preventing future terrorist attacks outweighs that of strong encryption methods’ privacy protections.

The government demanding a backdoor built into electronics is similar to “banning envelopes and curtains” because “it takes away a basic tool for keeping your private life private,” Serif Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty’s deputy director for global issues, said at a briefing.

Amnesty has strong views on the topic, comparing the U.S. government’s case against Apple to harsh encryption policies in Cuba, Pakistan, India, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Meanwhile, the FBI may have found another way into the iPhone used by a terrorist in the December San Bernardino, Calif., attacks. The FBI will go back to court April 5th with results of the new method.

Whatever happens, the outcome of Apple v. FBI will impact the evolving debate over a human right to encryption.

For now, at least envelopes and curtains are here to stay.

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