Update: Delegates at the concluding negotiating session failed to reach consensus on human rights protections, government surveillance, and other key issues. The session was suspended Feb. 8 without a final draft text. Delegates will resume talks at a later day with a view to concluding their work and providing a draft convention to the UN General Assembly at its 78th session later this year.

UN Member States are meeting in New York this week to conclude negotiations over the final text of the UN Cybercrime Treaty, which—despite warnings from hundreds of civil society organizations across the globe, security researchers, media rights defenders, and the world’s largest tech companies—will, in its present form, endanger human rights and make the cyber ecosystem less secure for everyone.

EFF and its international partners are going into this last session with a
unified message: without meaningful changes to limit surveillance powers for electronic evidence gathering across borders and add robust minimum human rights safeguard that apply across borders, the convention should be rejected by state delegations and not advance to the UN General Assembly in February for adoption.

EFF and its partners have for months warned that enforcement of such a treaty would have dire consequences for human rights. On a practical level, it will impede free expression and endanger activists, journalists, dissenters, and everyday people.

Under the draft treaty's current provisions on accessing personal data for criminal investigations across borders, each country is allowed to define what constitutes a "serious crime." Such definitions can be excessively broad and violate international human rights standards. States where it’s a crime to  criticize political leaders (
Thailand), upload videos of yourself dancing (Iran), or wave a rainbow flag in support of LGBTQ+ rights (Egypt), can, under this UN-sanctioned treaty, require one country to conduct surveillance to aid another, in accordance with the data disclosure standards of the requesting country. This includes surveilling individuals under investigation for these offenses, with the expectation that technology companies will assist. Such assistance involves turning over personal information, location data, and private communications secretly, without any guardrails, in jurisdictions lacking robust legal protections.

The final 10-day negotiating session in New York will conclude a
series of talks that started in 2022 to create a treaty to prevent and combat core computer-enabled crimes, like distribution of malware, data interception and theft, and money laundering. From the beginning, Member States failed to reach consensus on the treaty’s scope, the inclusion of human rights safeguards, and even the definition of “cybercrime.” The scope of the entire treaty was too broad from the very beginning; Member States eventually drops some of these offenses, limiting the scope of the criminalization section, but not evidence gathering provisions that hands States dangerous surveillance powers. What was supposed to be an international accord to combat core cybercrime morphed into a global surveillance agreement covering any and all crimes conceived by Member States. 

The latest draft,
released last November, blatantly disregards our calls to narrow the scope, strengthen human rights safeguards, and tighten loopholes enabling countries to assist each other in spying on people. It also retains a controversial provision allowing states to compel engineers or tech employees to undermine security measures, posing a threat to encryption. Absent from the draft are protections for good-faith cybersecurity researchers and others acting in the public interest.

This is unacceptable. In a Jan. 23 joint
statement to delegates participating in this final session, EFF and 110 organizations outlined non-negotiable redlines for the draft that will emerge from this session, which ends Feb. 8. These include:

  • Narrowing the scope of the entire Convention to cyber-dependent crimes specifically defined within its text.
  • Including provisions to ensure that security researchers, whistleblowers, journalists, and human rights defenders are not prosecuted for their legitimate activities and that other public interest activities are protected. 
  • Guaranteeing explicit data protection and human rights standards like legitimate purpose, nondiscrimination, prior judicial authorization, necessity and proportionality apply to the entire Convention.
  • Mainstreaming gender across the Convention as a whole and throughout each article in efforts to prevent and combat cybercrime.

It’s been a long fight pushing for a treaty that combats cybercrime without undermining basic human rights. Without these improvements, the risks of this treaty far outweigh its potential benefits. States must stand firm and reject the treaty if our redlines can’t be met. We cannot and will not support or recommend a draft that will make everyone less, instead of more, secure.