08 Feb 2024

Civil society and industry call on states to reject the UN Cybercrime Convention in its present form

Major human rights and industry groups have jointly issued a stark warning on the potentially disastrous impacts of the proposed UN Cybercrime Convention, which is entering the final stages of negotiations this week.

In a letter to the Chair of the UN’s Ad Hoc Committee on Cybercrime, an unprecedented grouping of civil society groups and tech companies called on states to drop their support for the current draft of the Convention, highlighting a range of critical flaws: including overly broad criminal provisions, weak or absent human rights safeguards and effective gender mainstreaming, and excessive cross-border powers incompatible with international human rights law. It also fails to sufficiently safeguard the work of journalists and others acting in the public interest.

“A UN treaty that authorizes broad government data collection, creates an uncertain legal landscape for legitimate cybersecurity research, and facilitates greater online censorship, without sufficient guardrails as a global standard is deeply concerning”, the letter states. 

“Ultimately, such a treaty would significantly erode trust and cooperation among all stakeholders, whose joint efforts are essential to address the growing global scourge of cybercrime.”

Signatories to the letter include digital rights groups like Access Now, ARTICLE 19, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Privacy International and Global Partners Digital, as well as the International Chamber of Commerce, Cybersecurity Tech Accord and United States Council for International Business (USCIB), which includes many of the world’s largest tech companies, like Google, Microsoft and Meta.

UN states are set to conclude negotiations on the final text of the Convention in New York on Friday 9 February. However, little has been agreed so far and key parts are still being negotiated behind closed doors. “Time is running out to avert an instrument which could imperil the rights of individuals globally”, noted GPD’s Global Engagement and Advocacy Lead, Ellie McDonald. 

“The proposed Convention risks permitting the criminalisation of legitimate online expression and granting states sweeping powers which could enable surveillance. It would endanger the work of security researchers, journalists and whistleblowers and could result in discrimination.”

“The signatories of this letter represent different perspectives and often do not agree on other policy issues. But the severity of the risks has brought industry and civil society together to submit our concerns. Our message to UN states today is clear: withhold your support from the draft convention in its current form, or risk rolling back critical human rights protections online.”

Related content

Read the joint letter