Bitcoin and Encryption are Protected by Freedom of Speech

May 22, 2015 was a special day in the tug-of-war of Between government, Bitcoin, and other encryption-related issues. On that day, the United Nations issued a report declaring encryption as a form of free speech.


What is encryption? The SANS institute’s definition of encryption is:

Encryption is a mathematical process of converting: messages, information, or data into any form string of symbols that is unreadable by anyone, except the intended recipient. It is meant to protect the confidentiality and integrity of content against third-party access or manipulation.

The UN’s report mentioned that certain governments wanted to keep a less advanced version of encryption. More sophisticated versions were being fought by governments so they could have easier access to information. The document pointed out the obvious flaws in that strategy, saying that weak encryption can be cracked by people with encryption skills, giving them access to sensitive information. are exploits for people with encryption skills to break into said information. We can look at the recent breach of security in the US  for an apt example of criminal hackers taking advantage of poor information security. One part of the report, was very important for the crypto community, and may give an advantage to “pro-crypto” laws and legislations. Article 16 of the report stated that:

Encryption and anonymity provide individuals and groups with a zone of privacy online to hold opinions and exercise freedom of expression without arbitrary and unlawful interference or attacks. The previous mandate holder noted that the rights to “privacy and freedom of expression are interlinked” and found that encryption and anonymity are protected because of the critical role they can play in securing those rights (A/HRC/23/40 and Corr.1). Echoing article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights specifically protects the individual against “arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence” and “unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation”, and provides that “everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”The General Assembly, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and special procedure mandate holders have recognized that privacy is a gateway to the enjoyment of other rights, particularly the freedom of opinion and expression (see General Assembly resolution 68/167, A/HRC/13/37 and Human Rights Council resolution 20/8).”

The report also insinuatesd that any form of encryption may be viewed as art or expression through art ( paragraph 22). The logical question that follows is: What is art and how do we define it? Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. So we, like the UN, can argue that Bitcoin, altcoins and encryption related technology is art, just like  Piet Mondrian or Leonardo Da Vinci. Thus, this UN report is quite an important document that is outlining the importance of encryption and cryptocurrency. While the report isn’t binding, nor is it a resolution, it may be seen as a template for future UN action towards encryption and digital currency. For crypto enthusiasts and Bitcoin lovers, this UN report is good news. It points to the protection of encryption under freedom of speech and expression, and also as an art form. Most people will think, “so what?” This acknowledgement of digital currency and encryption validates the cryptography community and every community related to it — like the Bitcoin community.

Should Bitcoin and encryption be protected by free speech? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: United Nations

This author’s views are not necessarily those of

John Doe