A Call to Governments on World Press Freedom Day: protect user privacy!

On May 3, 2023, World Press Freedom Day, a global network of over XX organisations and companies united to release an open letter calling on governments to uphold the right to privacy and ensure a free and open internet. The letter highlights the importance of encryption in protecting user privacy, data security, safety online, press freedom, self-determination, and free expression.

Why is encrypted communication so important for everyone?

Encryption is a critical tool in preventing access to user data and communications by law enforcement and malicious actors. However, many governments in democratic countries, including the EU, the USA, UK, and Australia, are pushing for encrypted services to backdoor their encryption or otherwise block access to encrypted tools and services such as Tor, Signal, or Tutanota. These actions pose a significant threat to privacy, press freedom, and other fundamental human rights.

Many journalists, whistleblowers, and activists depend on secure, encrypted solutions to protect their data and identity. Access to these tools can be life or death for those who rely on them. While attacks on encryption might seem like a distant problem primarily faced in authoritarian countries, the threat is just as real and knocking at the doors of democratic nations.

End-to-end encryption makes it impossible for messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Signal to share users’ messages with anyone, including law enforcement, politicians, government officials, and hackers. It also stops the companies themselves from using user data for ads, marketing, and other profit-grabbing schemes. However, law enforcement argues that the ability to freely access individuals’ communications is critical for criminal investigations. This messaging has spurred worrying initiatives such as the Online Safety Bill in the UK, the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act and EARN IT Act in the USA, India’s Directions 20(3)/2022 - CERT-In, the Surveillance Legislation Amendment Act in Australia, and the proposed rules to prevent and combat child sexual abuse in the EU.

The consequences of problematic laws: The surveillance state

Should these laws pass, encrypted services will have only two options: weaken their level of security to comply with legislative guidelines or be blocked by governments. Services such as Signal, Tutanota, and Threema have already announced that they will not weaken their encryption to comply with such stipulations, likely forcing countries like the UK to block access to these services instead.

The ban on encrypted services is not surprising from authoritarian regimes. However, it is worrying that democratic governments like the UK, the US, the European Union, India, and Australia are moving in the same direction. Taking away the right to privacy online limits the ability to exercise fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and opinion, press freedom, and freedom of speech.

Our appeal: The fair, free internet.

The internet must remain inclusive, free, and fair by providing everyone with unfettered access to online services, including encrypted services. This enables users to exercise their right to privacy, their right to engage in private discourse, and their right to hold those in power accountable by shedding light on human rights abuses, corruption, misinformation, and environmental destruction – something that is vital to the democratic process of forming public opinion.

As organisations that believe in the power of the right to privacy as an enabler of free speech and freedom of the press, we call on all governments to ensure that encryption is not being undermined via overreaching legislative initiatives. We urge them to revisit any bills, laws, and policies that legitimize undermining encryption or blocking access to secure communication.

Our motivation: Protect the freedom of speech!

We believe that encrypted communication is the cornerstone of a free and open internet. It is essential to the protection of human rights and the preservation of democracy. The efforts by some governments to undermine encryption are an attack on the right to privacy, and we must resist these attempts to ensure that we maintain a free and open society. It is up to all of us to speak out against these actions and demand that our governments protect our right to privacy and security online.

We encourage everyone to support these efforts and take action to protect our right to privacy. You can sign petitions, write to your elected representatives, and support organizations that are working to protect our digital rights. We must ensure that the internet remains a place where we can freely express ourselves, engage in private discourse, and hold those in power accountable. On this World Press Freedom Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to a free and open internet and pledge to defend our right to privacy and security online.


The mailbox.org team