Aegis Paper Series

The International Legal Dynamics of Encryption

By Ashley Deeks
Wednesday, October 12, 2016, 2:46 PM

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To date there has been little international coordinated action to address encryption, though interest is growing. If international discussions occur, what will they look like, in what forums might they take place, and on what aspects of encryption will they focus? This paper looks at encryption through five different international lenses: human rights, law enforcement, intelligence, economics, and export controls. It evaluates the current views of US and foreign actors in each framework, describes international discussions (if any) that have transpired, and identifies factors that may drive outcomes.

The paper concludes that the United States has several procedural opportunities to shape international discussions about encryption. The current US intelligence advantage in obtaining access to encrypted information and the significant value to the United States of end-to-end encryption in the economic and rights frameworks mean that the United States should either affirmatively advance or passively allow end-to-end encryption as the preferred posture in the international arena.

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