A move by the United Nations to approve a Russian-sponsored and China-backed resolution that aims to create a new convention on cybercrime has alarmed rights groups and Western powers that fear a bid to restrict online freedom. The resolution was approved on Friday by the general assembly by a vote of 79-60, with 33 abstentions. It establishes an expert committee representing all regions of the world “to elaborate a comprehensive international convention on countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes”. The resolution said the committee will meet in August 2020 to agree on an outline of its activities. The United States , European powers and rights groups fear that the language is code for legitimising crackdowns on expression, with numerous countries defining criticism of the government as “criminal”. Nearly 80 per cent of people in China worry about facial recognition data leaks A number of countries have increasingly tried to turn off the internet, with India cutting off access in disputed Kashmir in August after it stripped autonomy to the Muslim-majority region, and Iran taking much of the country offline as it cracked down on protests in November. China heavily restricts internet searches to avoid topics sensitive to its communist leadership, as well as news sites with critical coverage. There is no consensus among member states on the need or value of drafting a new treaty. It will only serve to stifle global efforts to combat cybercrime. US deputy ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet US deputy ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet told the assembly before the vote that the resolution would “undermine international cooperation to combat cybercrime at a time when enhanced coordination is essential”. “There is no consensus among member states on the need or value of drafting a new treaty,” she said. “It will only serve to stifle global efforts to combat cybercrime.” Chalet and the Finnish representative speaking for the EU both stressed that the UN’s existing intergovernmental expert group on cybercrime was already tackling the question of whether a new treaty was needed. “It is wrong to make a political decision on a new treaty before cybercrime experts can give their advice,” Chalet said, adding that the resolution “prejudges” and would “undermine” the experts’ work. A US official said a new convention was counter to Washington’s interests. “It is precisely our fear that (a new convention) would allow the codification at an international and global level of these types of controls that’s driving our opposition and our concerns about this resolution,” he said. Any new UN treaty that spells out internet controls would be “inimical to the United States’ interests because that doesn’t tally with the fundamental freedoms we see as necessary across the globe”, he said. Human Rights Watch called the UN resolution’s list of sponsors “a rogue’s gallery of some of the earth’s most repressive governments”. “If the plan is to develop a convention that gives countries legal cover for internet blackouts and censorship, while creating the potential for criminalising free speech, then it’s a bad idea,” said Human Rights Watch’s Louis Charbonneau. Philippine troll armies set sights on US politics in fake news fight The US argues that the world should instead expand its sole existing accord on cybercrime, the 2001 Budapest Convention, which spells out international cooperation to curb copyright violations, fraud and child pornography. The Budapest Convention was drafted by the Council of Europe, but other countries have joined, including the US and Japan. Russia has opposed the Budapest Convention, arguing that giving investigators access to computer data across borders violates national sovereignty. A new UN treaty on cybercrime could render the Budapest Convention obsolete, further concerning rights advocates. Russia’s representative underscored that the resolution required that the new committee take into account the results of the expert group’s work on cybercrime, expected next year, which Moscow supports. Taking that into account, the Russian representative said substantive work on the new convention would begin in 2021.