On Friday, governments concluded two weeks of polarizing meetings at the United Nations on a proposed global cybercrime treaty without reaching consensus on fundamental issues like the treaty’s scope, what constitutes a cybercrime, and what role, if any, human rights should play in its implementation.
Additionally, governments are still entertaining measures to fight global cybercrime at the expense of the rights of people this proposed treaty is meant to protect.
The proposed treaty has the potential to rewrite cybercrime legislation in countries around the world and transform cross-border policing.
Nearly four years into the treaty’s development, there is no agreement on whether the treaty should address only computer-related offenses, like attacks on computer data or systems, or a larger umbrella of crimes that could restrict online expression.
The treaty also proposes international cooperation on electronic evidence gathering for any serious offences – not just cybercrimes identified in the treaty. But some governments oppose applying human rights protections to these cooperation efforts.
As a result, each country could define for itself what offenses qualify for international cooperation and what safeguards to apply, an approach that could see governments facilitating prosecutions in ways inconsistent with international human rights obligations.
Under the treaty, governments could cooperate on so-called crimes, such as those that resulted in a man’s death sentence for peaceful tweets, the conviction of a Nobel prize winning journalist for cyber libel, and the charging of a gay man with “soliciting prostitution online” after he sought police assistance for being blackmailed and extorted.
Additionally, compelling governments to assist each other on all serious offenses could overburden already-strained international cooperation processes, heightening the risk that governments fail to catch abusive requests for assistance from other countries, while diluting resources needed to investigate actual cybercrime.
The draft treaty also proposes investigative powers without imposing adequate safeguards, inviting governments to conduct intrusive surveillance without judicial authorization or even a firm connection to an actual crime.
As it stands, the draft treaty risks not just legitimizing the misuse of cybercrime laws to squash dissent and expand state control, but expanding this misuse to other countries. It would also make governments more likely to help abusive allies.
Treaty negotiations are scheduled to conclude early next year. In the limited time left, governments should work to ensure this treaty is in line with their international human rights obligations, including by keeping the scope narrow and including only specified core cybercrimes, as well as safeguards to protect against misuse.