Report calls for presumptive ban on government hacking, adding human rights protections

Washington D.C. — Today, Access Now released a report, “A Human Rights Response to Government Hacking,” that applies human rights law and policy to government hacking. The report concludes that, while more transparency is needed globally on hacking practices, what we know of hacking and its significant interference with human rights dictates a presumptive prohibition on all government hacking.  

Over the past year government hacking has dominated headlines around the world. However, there has yet to be a public conversation on the scope, impact, or human rights safeguards for government hacking and its far-ranging consequences. The public requires more transparency regarding how governments decide to employ hacking and how and when hacking activity has had unanticipated impacts.

We assert that government hacking should be completely proscribed. Nevertheless, we observe that in practice hacking continues to take place in the dark and without human rights protections. For that reason, we call for a presumptive legal prohibition on government hacking and, for the rare, limited, exceptional cases that governments could potentially rebut that presumption in pursuit of surveillance or intelligence gathering, we present Ten Human Rights Safeguards for Government Hacking.

The full report is available here.

An executive summary is available here.

The report starts with a brief history of government hacking, defines broad categories of hacking, then moves into an analysis of human right law and policy based on these identified categories, namely messaging control, causing damage, and surveillance.

Hacking is one of the most invasive activities governments can engage in, yet it is occurring in the dark, without public debate. It is critical for governments, law enforcement, technologists, and civil society to have an honest conversation about the impact of government hacking in the digital age,” said Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now.

Some have suggested that robust government hacking is the only alternative to mandates to undermine encryption. These suggestions simplify the law and the facts and fail to recognize the potential damage that may be caused by hacking operations. Even when a particular hack is narrowly designed, it can have unexpected and unforeseen impacts. If and when governments hack, there needs to be transparency and human rights safeguards in place to provide for greater accountability,” added Stepanovich.