UN Special Rapporteur: Anonymity Is Gateway to Free Expression
We at the Tor Project have long said that Tor is a technology for free expression. Today, that view was endorsed by UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye in a new report on encryption and anonymity. The report, a close look at international law and its relation to technology, concludes that encryption and anonymity technologies are essential to the protection of human rights to privacy and freedom of expression and opinion:
Encryption and anonymity, separately or together, create a zone of privacy to protect opinion and belief. For instance, they enable private communications and can shield an opinion from outside scrutiny, particularly important in hostile political, social, religious and legal environments. Where States impose unlawful censorship through filtering and other technologies, the use of encryption and anonymity may empower individuals to circumvent barriers and access information and ideas without the intrusion of authorities. Journalists, researchers, lawyers and civil society rely on encryption and anonymity to shield themselves (and their sources, clients and partners) from surveillance and harassment. The ability to search the web, develop ideas and communicate securely may be the only way in which many can explore basic aspects of identity, such as one’s gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin or sexuality. Artists rely on encryption and anonymity to safeguard and protect their right to expression, especially in situations where it is not only the State creating limitations but also society that does not tolerate unconventional opinions or expression.
The report points to the Tor network specifically, noting that anonymity is critical to protect privacy against identification through metadata analysis. "A common human desire to protect one’s identity from the crowd, anonymity may liberate a user to explore and impart ideas and opinions more than she would using her actual identity." In the protection of free expression, anonymity technology is thus a necessary counterpart to encryption, giving the individual the ability to choose both what to say and to whom to reveal that she is saying it.
The Kaye Report recognizes that technologies can be used for harm as well as for good, but that does not mean they may be banned. Rather, human rights law offers a strict framework for evaluation of government-imposed limits: "Restrictions on encryption and anonymity, as enablers of the right to freedom of expression... must be provided for by law; may only be imposed for legitimate grounds; and must conform to the strict tests of necessity and proportionality." That means that legal restrictions must be publicly and transparently legislated, with judicial safeguards on their application; they must be applied narrowly; and they must be proportional to the objectives of the law. "Because anonymity facilitates opinion and expression in significant ways online, States should protect it and generally not restrict the technologies that provide it."
The Tor Project is pleased to have contributed to the report, and we heartily endorse its conclusion:
The use of encryption and anonymity tools and better digital literacy should be encouraged. The Special Rapporteur, recognizing that the value of encryption and anonymity tools depends on their widespread adoption, encourages States, civil society organizations and corporations to engage in a campaign to bring encryption by design and default to users around the world and, where necessary, to ensure that users at risk be provided the tools to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression securely.