Cyberattacks are becoming more commonplace, sophisticated, and severe. As Covid-19 forced millions of people’s lives online, a stable and secure internet is essential to the functioning of societies.
Fortuitously, the UN Security Council held its second-ever informal meeting , led by Estonia, on Friday. The discussion focused on cyber challenges to international peace, but human rights inched their way into the discussion too.
Fundamental rights are at stake when governments engage in cyberattacks, like when Russia shut down the internet, as it did and in Ingushetia in 2018, or when a government hacks into a dissident or journalist’s phone, as and the have repeatedly done.
Internet shutdowns deny people access to critical information, the ability to express themselves, work, learn, and access social services. infringes on privacy and can lead to other rights violations, in particular for human rights activists and journalists. Ahmed Mansoor was imprisoned and was executed after their governments gathered information on their activities through hacking. Governments like China and Vietnam use cybersecurity as an excuse to exercise more control over the internet and further restrict rights.
At Friday’s debate, at least a dozen countries referenced the importance of human rights. Estonia its “support [for] an open, free and stable cyberspace where the rule of law fully applies, and human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected.” This position was echoed by a number of EU member states - including Belgium and the Netherlands - Ecuador, Japan, Switzerland, and others. Eritrea and raised concerns about the spread of disinformation online and the need to reform the prevailing surveillance-based business models of companies in order to safeguard elections. A handful of States, including , , Ecuador, , and recognized .
Noticeably silent on rights were the two cyber heavyweights: the US, which , and Russia, which .
UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently warned that “ Often this happens in the name of, or due to a lack of, cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is a human rights issue. It’s time more governments start treating it like one.