Negotiation of a treaty on Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies for Criminal Purposes (UN Cybercrime Treaty) will begin in New York in January 2022. The process to negotiate the new treaty was established by the UN General Assembly in October 2019 – albeit by a narrow margin – but has been delayed repeatedly due to limitations imposed by COVID-19. 

Following a first meeting to establish modalities for the negotiations, held in May 2021, the first substantive session will begin in January 2022. Russia, as the chief proponent of the process, has already submitted a draft proposed treaty, in which it seeks to expand the 2001 Budapest Convention’s 9 categories of internationally designated cybercrimes to 23 specific crimes. These include terrorism and extremism related offences, the creation and use of digital data to mislead users, offences related to the distribution of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and arms trafficking, and the illicit distribution of counterfeit medicines and medical products among others. 

While Russia has called for its draft to be used as a basis for negotiations, other States continue to press for a ‘bottom-up’ approach, beginning with a discussion on the scope and principles for the new treaty. Non-government organisations with ECOSOC consultative status will be entitled to register with the UN Office of Drugs and Crime to take part in the negotiations.  In addition, the modalities adopted in May 2021 for the negotiations, explicitly request the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee to: “draw up a list of representatives of other relevant non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, academic institutions and the private sector, including those with expertise in the field of cybercrime, who may participate in the Ad Hoc Committee ” for consideration by Member States as a whole.

This is intended to ensure space for multistakeholder reactions and participation in the discussions. In Vienna, States and the UNODC continue to negotiate steps to implement these modalities, in order to be ready for the first negotiating session in January.  Human rights and civil society groups have expressed caution over Russia’s draft treaty, stressing its vagueness around the definition of cybercrime could ultimately empower governments across the world in their crackdown on political opposition and freedom of speech.