A new draft of the controversial United Nations Cybercrime Treaty has only heightened concerns that the treaty will criminalize expression and dissent, create extensive surveillance powers, and facilitate cross-border repression. 

The proposed treaty, originally aimed at combating cybercrime, has morphed into an expansive surveillance treaty, raising the risk of overreach in both national and international investigations. The new draft retains a controversial provision allowing states to compel engineers or employees to undermine security measures, posing a threat to encryption.  

This new draft not only disregards but also deepens our concerns, empowering nations to cast a wider net by accessing data stored by companies abroad, potentially in violation of other nations’ privacy laws. It perilously broadens its scope beyond the cybercrimes specifically defined in the Convention, encompassing a long list of non-cybercrimes. This draft retains the concerning issue of expanding the scope of evidence collection and sharing across borders for any serious crime, including those crimes that blatantly violate human rights law. Furthermore, this new version overreaches in investigating and prosecuting crimes beyond those detailed in the treaty; until now such power was limited to only the crimes defined in article 6-16 of the convention.  

We are deeply troubled by the blatant disregard of our input, which moves the text further away from consensus. This isn't just an oversight; it's a significant step in the wrong direction. 

Initiated in 2022, treaty negotiations have been marked by ongoing disagreements between governments on the treaty’s scope and on what role, if any, human rights should play in its design and implementation. The new draft was released Tuesday, Nov. 28; governments will hold closed-door talks December 19-20 in Vienna, in an attempt to reach consensus on what crimes to include in the treaty, and the draft will be considered at the final negotiating session in New York at the end of January 2024, when it’s supposed to be finalized and adopted.  

Deborah Brown, Human Rights Watch’s acting associate director for technology and human rights, said this latest draft

“is primed to facilitate abuses on a global scale, through extensive cross border powers to investigate virtually any imaginable ‘crime’ – like peaceful dissent or expression of sexual orientation – while undermining the treaty’s purpose of addressing genuine cybercrime. Governments should not rush to conclude this treaty without ensuring that it elevates, rather than sacrifices, our fundamental rights.”