The United Nations has released a report saying that free expression is a human right and that encryption should be allowed and mass surveillance restricted.
The report flies in the face of plans by governments, including those of the US and UK, and recommends against the overzealous use of surveillance.
UN special rapporteur David Kaye, author of the document, told The Intercept website that the report is "the first attempt to create a legal framework for digital security".
The document, entitled Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and
protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (PDF), sets out the UN stance on mass surveillance, suggesting that any government-led swoops should be viewed and judged on a case-by-case basis.
The document is not binding, but does make a number of suggestions that Kaye hopes will inform governments and lawmakers.
"It's about the legal framework that human rights law establishes for freedom of expression. Hopefully advocates will make use of it when cases around privacy and freedom of expression get litigated," he told The Intercept.
The UK and other countries are looking to expand communications surveillance, and the Conservative Party introduced the Investigatory Powers Bill during the Queen's speech this week.
But the UN report advises against this. "States should not restrict encryption and anonymity, which facilitate and often enable the rights to freedom of opinion and expression," said the document.
"Blanket prohibitions fail to be necessary and proportionate. States should avoid all measures that weaken the security that individuals may enjoy online, such as backdoors, weak encryption standards and key escrows."
Rights group Access welcomed the report, saying that it confirms the importance of protection and security.
"This report clearly states that intentionally compromising encryption weakens everyone's security online," said Access technology director Jamie Tomasello.
"It takes input from a wide variety of stakeholders across the internet ecosystem, including civil society and technologists, not just military and government, and places access to digital security technologies at the heart of the full realisation of human rights."
Thomas Hughes, executive director of Article 19, added that the report "marks an important milestone" in the fight for privacy.
"As the UK government just announced its plans for increasing surveillance powers, the UN top free expression watchdog has sharply rebuked prime minister Cameron's earlier promises to ban encryption," he said.
"The UN report makes it absolutely clear that attempts by governments to gain back-door access to people's communications or to intentionally weaken encryption standards violate international law.
"It is vital that states review their relevant laws, policies and practices on anonymity and encryption, to ensure that they protect people's rights to free expression and privacy online."
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