Unesco warns the World Wide Web Consortium that DRM is incompatible with free expression

Unesco's Frank La Rue has published a letter to Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, warning him of the grave free-speech consequences of making DRM for the web without ensuring that lawful activity that requires bypassing it is also protected.

Unesco is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; tasked with "contributing to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter."

La Rue reminds Berners-Lee that "UNESCO's Constitution commits the Organisation to the free flow of information and ideas," and points out that EME has the power to stifle many legitimate activities — it could allow governments to suppress recording of hearings, and because reporting security defects in DRM is legally fraught, any flaws in EME could expose web users to privacy invasions. Finally, La Rue reminds Berners-Lee of the importance of adapting technology for people with disabilities, an activity that brings grave risk because it so often involves bypassing DRM.

In a contribution to the debate on the proposed technical change, he evaluated the issue from the standpoint of UNESCO's values of the free flow of information and the Organisation's concept of Internet Universality.

The EME technical standard could adversely impact on human rights, openness and accessibility on the Internet, stated the Assistant Director General.

According to his letter, "to date, most filtering and blocking of content has been done at the level of the network, whereas the risk now is that this capacity could also become technically effective at the level of the browser.

"With standardized EME incorporated in the browser, a level of control would cascade to the user interface level."

La Rue expressed concerns about the possible implications this could have for access to information, privacy, openness and choice about whether to opt-in or not, as well as for the uncovering of security vulnerabilities in copyrighted content.

Encrypted Media Extensions [Frank La Rue/Unesco]

Be careful about proposed technical change to the Web, says UNESCO's La Rue

[Unesco blog]