End-to-end encryption on messaging platforms

What does it mean for human rights?

What is end-to-end encryption?

End-to-end encryption scrambles messages so that only the sender and the recipient can decipher them.

It is considered the most secure and privacy-protective method of communication.

Why is end-to-end encryption relevant for human rights?

The enhanced privacy protections enabled by end-to-end encryption are increasingly relevant for users’ ability to enjoy their human rights in a rapidly changing world marked by several factors:

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What are the human rights opportunities and risks?

Today’s encryption debate is perceived to pit two opposing groups against each other, with privacy on one side and security on the other. However, the reality is much more nuanced.

There are privacy and security concerns on both sides, along with many other interconnected human rights that are impacted both positively and negatively by end-to-end encrypted messaging.


End-to-end encryption directly enables privacy, which enables:


End-to-end encryption itself does not directly cause adverse human rights impacts. But users may abuse the privacy protections of end-to-end-encryption to:

What are the main human rights trade-offs?

The expansion of end-to-end encryption involves challenging human rights trade-offs.

For example, a range of techniques have been proposed as solutions to enable end-to-end encrypted messaging apps to identify, block, and report content such as child sexual abuse material.

However, because these techniques can be used to detect a variety of content, a well-intentioned attempt to protect children could be abused by governments to require companies to block legitimate content a government dislikes.

There are potential rights-based paths toward resolving those conflicts, but the evolving nature of the risks involved makes that challenging.

What can companies providing end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms do?

These recommendations can help companies avoid, prevent, and mitigate the potential adverse human rights impacts arising from the use of end-to-end encrypted messaging while also maximizing the beneficial impact it will have on human rights.

See BSR’s Human Rights Impact Assessment on Meta’s Expansion of End-to-End Encryption

Read more about BSR's Human Rights Impact Assessment

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