Access Now urges officials not to abandon human rights at secretive “Five Eyes” meeting

Global — Next week officials from some of the world’s most powerful governments will expected to meet in Canada to discuss proposals to undermine cybersecurity while increasing surveillance and censorship. Access Now calls on these officials to commit to protecting, and not undermining, human rights and the digital security of users.

The officials represent the so-called “Five Eyes,” a surveillance partnership of intelligence agencies from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Meetings between the agencies are typically not publicized. However, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia publicly indicated that he wants to discuss the use of the internet by terrorists and organized criminals, stating “[t]he privacy of a terrorist can never be more important than public safety — never.”

Turnbull’s comments closely resemble statements made by UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Earlier this month, May tweeted “I’m clear: if human rights laws get in the way of tackling extremism and terrorism, we will change those laws to keep British people safe.” In the U.S., the current administration has pushed for even more invasive national security measures, including for immigrants and travelers, as debates heat up about the renewal of broad spying authorities set to expire this December.  

“Leaders abdicating their duty to protect human rights in exchange for quick, unproven fixes will allow disproportionate censorship and surveillance to run rampant,” said Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now. “They should reverse course and instead commit to respecting rights, starting with the recognition of the importance of encryption to user rights, cybersecurity, and the infrastructure of the internet. They should invite all stakeholders to sit down at the table for a meaningful dialogue on secretive policies that impact the fundamental rights of billions of people worldwide.”

Civil society, the private sector, technologists, and global experts have offered unqualified support for encryption in an open letter at Securetheinternet.org. Access Now sent the letter to to leaders in each of the Five Eyes governments, which has been signed by over 300 civil society groups, tech companies, and individuals.

“We don’t downplay the duty of governments to protect the physical safety of people,” Stepanovich continued. “However we cannot and should not sacrifice the human rights which each of these countries has committed to uphold.”

In light of this meeting, Access Now encourages individuals to speak up for strong encryption by sharing our open letter at securetheinternet.org with the leaders from the Five Eyes, Australian Prime Minister Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) U.S. President Trump (@POTUS) UK Prime Minister Theresa May (@theresa_may), Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau), and New Zealand Prime Minister English (@pmbillenglish).