LACNIC

Internet governance

Does limiting freedom of expression and privacy enhance Internet security?

02/02/2015

Once again, various governments are attempting to solve current security problems by introducing Internet control measures that may limit freedom of expression and the right to privacy. Certain approaches such as banning encryption have even been proposed that would conspire against Internet development itself.

Many of the problems encountered are real and based on genuine concerns, particularly given the growing importance of the Internet in people’s daily lives. However, these approaches stem from a false dichotomy: curtailing individual rights in order to meet the challenges posed by the new technological platforms.

Andres Piazza, External Relations Officer at LACNIC, notes that the real challenge is improving Internet safety while at the same time enhancing online freedom of speech and access to information.

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the governments of France and Britain have announced tighter controls over the Internet and social networks aimed at limiting terrorist groups’ propaganda or detecting potential threats. Are the proposed measures for controlling the Internet not a limitation on freedom of expression and the right to privacy?

As no concrete regulation proposals have been made public, it is too early to understand the actual scope of the “exceptional measures” of which some political leaders are speaking.

There is, however, an unfortunate history of regulations that were written in the heat of a terrorist attack which have indeed encroached on rights, for instance the US Patriot Act.

It’s important to wait and see how some of these current expressions will take the form of legislative initiatives, given that Europe in general and France in particular have an important history of respect for legal guarantees as well as a regulation on Personal Data Protection.

Isn’t a false dichotomy being proposed according to which meeting the challenges of today’s Internet is only possible if certain rights are curtailed?

This is indeed a false dichotomy, as the main result of citizens’ unrestricted access to the Internet leads to a greater exercise of their rights (freedom of expression, access to information).

However, the desired balance between security and privacy continues to be one of the greatest challenges of this era.

Is cybersecurity trying to be used as an excuse to obtain greater access to personal and corporate data?

Internet security is not an excuse, but a relevant agenda item which must be addressed as such. In fact, this is one of LACNIC’s strategic priorities. However, for some time now we’ve been seeing cases where it is ultimately used as an excuse. This is not the only one.

If the already prevalent mass surveillance, which implies the ability to break security barriers in order to access user information, is compounded with the prohibition of using encrypted services, the picture becomes quite disturbing. Paradoxically, while it would mean removing some of the obstacles that law enforcement agencies are facing, instead of the desired positive effects, this prohibition might have a negative impact on users’ safety instead.

Eventually, it would lead to a situation where the right to privacy would be lost without necessarily having gained anything in terms of security.

How can greater restrictions and controls affect Internet development?

Coupled with surveillance practices, even if they occur outside the region, this type of restrictions on encrypted communication services would not only affect privacy and security – they would also have the ability to place the Internet’s global interoperability at stake.

The Internet can only drive development if there is broad user access to an open, stable and interoperable network.

Great Britain has gone so far as to propose banning popular messaging applications and social networks that deploy encryption techniques to protect user data. Is this feasible?

It is true that certain statements have been made seeking to prohibit encrypted communications, but no specific regulatory initiatives have been proposed so I believe we should wait.

Should this type of measures be raised, not only would their viability be doubtful but the impact of their unintended consequences on citizen rights and security would be much higher than the dangers against which they are intended to protect.

According to one interpretation, the scope of the ban proposed in Britain encompasses the encryption technology that protects online communications, shopping, banking and personal data. How would this affect the global Internet?

It’s hard to imagine a scenario such as this in the UK, as it could be extremely harmful to Internet users in that country. However, in order to have a global impact, these prohibitions should at the least cover the entire European Union, which seems even more unlikely given the high privacy standards contained in European regulations.

 

How can the challenge of improving Internet security be reconciled with the improvement of online human rights?

This question is very difficult to answer. The challenge is not only avoiding the tension between security and privacy, but also ensuring that rights such as freedom of expression and access to information are observed.

Security approaches and criminal prosecution should be a collaborative effort between the various agents, on that will maintain the guarantees provided by the existing legal framework and encourage extensive debate between government representatives and the other stakeholders involved.

The more serious and broader the debate, the lower the chances of a merely repressive and restrictive approach to Rights.

What is the Latin American community doing in regards to these attempts to limit Internet rights?

The Internet community is comprised of our governments, private sector companies, activists, members if academia, and organizations such as LACNIC that represent what is called the “technical community.”

It can be said that our region’s outlook is relatively positive, as this type of statements or actions of which we’ve spoken are isolated cases. The dialogue that exists among the various stakeholders is worth highlighting, as it is fluid and should be furthered.