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UN Human Rights Council takes major step towards protecting privacy online

A surveillance monitoring expert watches a bank of screens showing images from Edinburgh City Council's network of CCTV cameras in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2006
A surveillance monitoring expert watches a bank of screens showing images from Edinburgh City Council's network of CCTV cameras in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2006

REUTERS/David Moir

This statement was originally published on article19.org on 26 March 2015.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the creation of a Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy by the Human Rights Council at the conclusion of its 28th Session in Geneva.

“The creation of a Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy by the UN Human Rights Council marks a significant step towards ensuring mass surveillance and other privacy abuses – that have a chilling effect on freedom of expression - receive systematic, independent and expert scrutiny at the international level” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

The resolution, adopted without a vote at the 28th Session of the Human Rights Council, is the result of an initiative led by Brazil and Germany, which attracted significant levels of co-sponsorship from across States. South Africa disassociated itself from the consensus, while Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also making negative statements at the adoption of the mandate.

In an oral statement delivered to the 28th Session of the HRC on behalf of 92 other civil society organisations, ARTICLE 19 said the creation of a mandate of Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy would address an “urgent need and fill a significant gap in the conceptual and practical understanding of the right to privacy.”

The right to privacy, protected under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is one of the few rights that has not received the attention of a dedicated UN Special Rapporteur to date.

“ARTICLE 19 has long argued that the right to freedom of expression cannot be enjoyed without the right to privacy. Both rights are crucial for journalists and human rights defenders to be able to carry out their work. The creation of a Special Rapporteur will strengthen protections of freedom of expression as well as privacy”, added Hughes.

“The special rapporteur, once appointed, will be able to provide the objective oversight to States' surveillance practices that is too often lacking at the domestic level, including in supposedly established democracies”, Hughes stressed.

While the resolution is titled “the right to privacy in the digital age”, it creates a special rapporteur mandate with the competencies to address the right to privacy broadly.

Once appointed, the special rapporteur, as an independent expert, will:

  • Engage in sustained and systemic analysis, research and monitoring on the right to privacy to develop common understandings on its nature and scope;
  • Gather information on national and international legal and policy frameworks to protect the right to privacy, and make recommendations for their improvement;
  • Monitor and report on violations of the right to privacy;
  • On the invitation of States, conduct country visits to examine States’ implementation of measures to protect and promote the right to privacy;
  • Make recommendations and provide authoritative guidance to States and non-state actors, including technology companies, to strengthen the protection of individuals’ right to privacy.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • UN: Major Step on Internet Privacy

    “How privacy is protected online is one of the most pressing issues of our time,” said Eileen Donahoe, director of global affairs at Human Rights Watch. “Our hope is that the Human Rights Council resolution marks the beginning of a serious global reckoning with mass surveillance and its effects.”

  • UN Human Rights Council Appoints Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy

    This decision is a key step forward for the UNHRC; it elevates the right to privacy to the priority level that the Human Rights Council ascribes to most other human rights. Most importantly, it gives the right to privacy the international recognition and protection it deserves.

  • MISA welcomes appointment of Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy

    "This is a milestone for the UNHCR and gives the right to privacy the international recognition and protection it deserves", MISA Regional Director Zoé Titus said. MISA promotes the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms which states that "… the right to privacy on the Internet should not be subject to any restrictions, except those which are provided by law, for a legitimate purpose and necessary and proportionate in a democratic society, as consistent with international human rights standards".

  • United Nations establishes landmark role for expert to investigate and report on right to privacy

    “The Council today has confirmed what we have said for some time: The right to privacy is an invaluable human right, essential to human autonomy and dignity, and deserves explicit attention to ensure that it is respected and protected around the world. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need a dedicated individual to hold those accountable who wish to violate privacy, whether it is through surveillance, indiscriminate data collection, or other techniques that infringe on this important right. As Privacy International celebrates 25 years of advocating for the right to privacy, we can confidently say that today's resolution is one of the most important events to protect privacy.”

  • UNHRC appoints Special Rapporteur for protection of privacy in digital space


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