IGF 2023 WS #356 Encryption's Critical Role in Safeguarding Human Rights

Monday, 9th October, 2023 (23:30 UTC) - Tuesday, 10th October, 2023 (00:30 UTC)
WS 4 – Room B-1

Human Rights & Freedoms
Digital Technologies and Rights to Health
Rights to Access and Information
Technology in International Human Rights Law

Organizer 1: Pavel Zoneff, The Tor Project
Organizer 2: Roger Dingledine, The Tor Project Inc.

Speaker 1: Roger Dingledine, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Rand Hammoud, Civil Society, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 3: Sharon Polsky, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Tate Ryan-Mosley, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Pavel Zoneff, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Roger Dingledine, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Panel - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

A.) How can policymakers ensure that individuals who use encryption to protect their privacy and security are not subject to discrimination, surveillance, or other forms of harassment or repression? B.) Should encryption be regulated at the national or international level, and how can this be accomplished without hindering technological innovation, impeding the free flow of information, or compromising users? C.) Who stands to gain or lose if we have systems that cannot comply with access desires to encrypted communications from authorities?

What will participants gain from attending this session? Participants will gain a deeper understanding of how public discourse is shaped to malign the terminology and concept of ‘encryption’ to influence decision makers and legislators to advocate for building in backdoors. IGF 2022 aimed at introducing the voices of human rights actors into policy debates about encryption to provide insight into the necessary protections encryption offers. This session seeks to advance that discussion by bringing together a panel of privacy-preserving technology providers, advocates, and grassroots organizers working on the frontlines defending people's digital and human rights. Based on tactical insights, they will debate the elements that can help shape an ethical, human rights focused international governance framework for the protection of encryption services and technology. Conference attendees will take away arguments to engage in productive discourse around what a responsible governance framework for encryption might look like.


Almost every aspect of our private and public lives relies on the internet. From accessing information via news outlets or social media to health and eGov services to executing money transactions, civic participation requires disclosure of personal information online. Encryption is a powerful tool to safeguard that information and has become a fundamental building block for the internet as we know it today. Yet, by design, this technology is invisible to the naked eye which makes it particularly susceptible to the spread of misinformation and policy challenges when it comes to its day-to-day use cases. Under the guise of protecting vulnerable populations, government bodies worldwide are pushing for backdoors and restrictions on encryption technologies. But the negative impact of tampering with encryption and allowing government or other public sector actors to peek behind the curtain is often overlooked. The panelists will evaluate common threats to encryption – from spyware to legislative and political calls for (more) backdoors – and foreshadow what a future without encryption would look like as people’s online data is increasingly used to restrict their rights, access to information, civic participation, and healthcare. Outside of empowering human rights defenders, journalists and people experiencing restricted internet access, encryption will play an increasingly important role in safeguarding basic human rights against the backdrop of managing global health crises, disaster response, and emerging currencies. This session will address the role of public and private entities in protecting privacy-preserving technologies and debate related policy questions. How interconnected should centralized government (and intergovernmental) systems be? Can there be global consensus on what constitutes 'reasonable' limitation on encryption? What happens when a government changes, and with it the public policy? Should politicians, lawmakers, and members of the judiciary be required to be well-versed in privacy, encryption, and their impact on human rights?

Expected Outcomes

The workshop aims to discuss and answer the above policy questions to uncover potential elements for a human-rights forward governance framework for encryption, and raise awareness of the importance of encryption for privacy and security protections online. The panelists will demonstrate how the protection of digital rights is inextricably linked to upholding human rights by presenting tangible, everyday beneficial use cases to combat misinformation, and that help interested audiences engage in a more productive discourse. Conference attendees will take away arguments and use cases to engage in productive discourse around what a responsible governance framework for encryption might look like.

Hybrid Format: The session will include both an online and on-site moderator as well as online- and in-person panelists. The moderators will work together closely to ensure that questions and comments from both online and in-person participants are addressed in equal measure, displayed and highlighted during the session. Since this session is designed to explore common misconceptions about the topic of encryption, and to account for differences in the level of knowledge about the subject matter, we will integrate interactive elements to make the discussion more lively and engage the audience via chat and polls using free, open-source online platforms to gauge a deeper understanding of the audience sentiment and where additional context and explanations might be needed to facilitate an inclusive and productive Q&A session. We will closely follow the guidance and potential additional input from the IGF Secretariat and its working group on hybrid meetings.