Cybersecurity, surveillance and online human rights


By Anja Kovacs and Dixie Hawtin

A discussion paper written for the Stockholm Internet Forum, by Anja Kovacs (Internet Democracy Project), and Dixie Hawtin (Global Partners and Associates).

If activists are to win the fight to keep the Internet free and open, it is becoming increasingly clear that they must familiarise themselves intimately with the areas of cyber security and cyber surveillance. Genuine threats do indeed exist. Illegal access to computers and data, as well as data interference, have become more common and complex problems that affect large numbers of people. Issues like fraud are taking on new forms on the Internet. And as more of our critical infrastructure becomes reliant on the Internet, security infringements can have significant repercussions. It is an integral duty of any state to ensure the security of the people within its boundaries, and this duty does extend to the cyber domain. However, cyber security strategies must be designed and implemented in a way which is consistent with international human rights law. In other cases, States have been found to be behind threats such as cyber attacks aimed at human rights defenders or the political opposition. It is therefore important that the broader human rights community starts engaging with these discourses more closely, to unpack the proclaimed threats as well as their supposed solutions and to ensure that human rights standards are upheld in the cyber security arena too.