Why The United Nations Is Getting Involved in Cybercrime

The newest player in cybercrime law and regulation is the United Nations. Here is what you need to know about the UN cybercrime treaty and why many cybercrime experts are worried about the implications of it. 

What is the United Nations Treaty About?

Since October 19, 2023, diplomats have been negotiating the terms of a 73-page agreement on cybercrime. On paper, the deal seeks to make it easier for governments to share information on an ever-increasing amount of digital crime. The body is still in the negotiation process; meetings about the treaty will likely take place until early 2024 to adopt the resolution during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2024.

What are the Objections?

There are many worries from Western United Nations international experts about adopting this treaty. The main disagreements include a lack of human rights safeguards, capacity gaps between countries, and how the treaty should harmonize with other instruments. 

Part of the United Nations treaty would allow governments to investigate crimes in other jurisdictions, and the 30 or so crimes listed in the draft of the treaty give few concessions to human rights or free speech. This treaty also does not address data protection issues or the role of the private sector and civil society. Essentially, the main worry is that cybercrime investigations could double as international surveillance operations. For some countries, there is a significant gap in their funding for these operations, so this treaty could easily allow rich countries to have far too much legal jurisdiction for surveillance in third-world countries.

What Cybercrimes Will it Address?

Already included in the draft of the treaty are crimes like copyright, child exploitation, incitement of terrorism or extremism, and approval of human rights offenses. There have been proposals to include the criminalization of misinformation or the criminalization of “cyber-terrorism.” The problem with many of these issues is that they are loosely defined and vaguely worded. 

The second problem is that many countries feel that the definition of cybercrime is loosely defined. Some countries are trying to include only cyber-enabled crimes in the treaty. Others think that cyber-depended crimes should be the main focus of the treaty. Proponents of this idea think the more narrow jurisdiction would reduce the amount of unwarranted surveillance of other countries. How this debate pans out will remain to be seen in the final adoption of the treaty. 

The Effects

You may have heard about the very limited nature of United Nations treaties in the past. What is important to note about these treaties is that there is no real way for violations of “rules” proposed by the UN to be enforced. Violating the rules could result in tariffs against the volator or other economic “punishments” by the wider international community, so generally, the rules are followed. 

The treaty will likely have data privacy protections, especially for private entities, built into the final document. However, despite the international community’s best efforts, cybercrime will not stop. It’s essential to remain protected against cybercrime, especially as it grows and develops.

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