The manner in which technology is used and regulated has incredible implications for all aspects of life – from how people work, to how people communicate, to how democracy operates. As technology can be used in manners both beneficial and detrimental to human rights, it is not only important to consider the consequences of technological developments at the outset but also to continue to evaluate the human rights impact of existing technologies on an ongoing basis. While it is often claimed that the law struggles to keep up with developments in technology, rights documents – such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – are in effect technology neutral standards. Technology evangelists may argue that existing human rights standards are anachronistic in an information-driven world and champions of surveillance and censorship may contend that human rights are secondary to security, yet it is important to remember that human rights standards were not created in a vacuum. Human rights were developed in order to protect fundamental democratic values deemed necessary to protect essential freedoms. This chapter considers the central role of human rights in democratic societies and examines the case study of encryption in order to assess the continued importance of the UDHR in the face of technological development. If new policies cannot work within the boundaries of human rights law, society should first re-evaluate the use of the technology before reformulating fundamental ideals. Human rights instruments – like the UDHR – provide useful language and a framework to present coherent opposition to government overreach.
Key words: encryption and human rights; human rights and the internet; Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018; right to privacy; freedom of expression.