3 February, 2015

Pivate Life and Human Rights – The Right to Privacy

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Category: European Action Day, Internet, Privacy, Safety
Community Manager
2 pm

17ee0x1va4isfjpgThe right to private life is protected by various human rights treaties. ‘Private life’ under human rights law covers a great deal more than mere privacy and includes those aspects of someone’s personal life which are most important to their identity and sense of dignity. These areas of our life are supposed to be free from interference from state authorities, and the state is also supposed to protect us against interference from other people. The European Court of Human Rights uses the idea of someone’s ‘physical and psychological integrity’ to assess many of the claims brought under Article 8. Governments are supposed to ensure that people are able to go about their normal lives, according to their personal preferences, without others either forcing them into a mould that ‘fits all’ or persecuting them for having different needs from others. What matters is how something that the state has done, or failed to do, impacts on an individual: our private life is a personal matter! However, the right to private life is not an ‘absolute’ right; in other words, state authorities need to balance one person’s private life against other demands from society, or from other individuals. Very occasionally, it may be justifiable for the state to access people’s personal data, perhaps in order to protect others; and sometimes it may decide not to protect someone’s privacy, either because the risk to the individual concerned is not sufficiently serious, or because the cost to others is too high.

Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. Article 8, Part 1, European Convention of Human Rights.

1. No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.

2. The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. Article 16, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

In general, and as with all human rights, the onus is on the state authorities to ensure that people’s private lives and personal dignity are not interfered with, either by the state, or by other parties. This applies as much online as it does offline.

internet-privacy-240x268Privacy and Human Rights

Privacy is a particular aspect of ‘private life’, and is also protected by Article 8 of the ECHR. Privacy concerns those areas of our physical, social or emotional life which we do not wish to share publicly. Unless we give our express permission, or unless there are very strong reasons to do with protecting other people’s rights, those things we wish to keep private should be kept private! No-one, and no organisation, has the right to know things about our private life that we do not wish them to know. However, the default settings on many Internet forums or websites are not always easy to understand, and are not always designed primarily to protect the privacy of users. Ensuring that private details are indeed kept private demands care and attention, and a general awareness of potential dangers. Issues relating to privacy can also be important in relation to sharing content online. Young people need to be aware that just as their own privacy is important, so is the privacy of others. The ease of sharing photos, videos, messages, or other information can lead to carelessness, sometimes resulting in harm to others. The key message for young people is that material which relates directly to someone else should only be shared if it is either already in the public domain (and is not harmful or abusive) or if the person has given their permission for it to be shared. It is also worth noting that in most cases of online communication, material is never really private. Email messages and anything that has been posted online can almost always be accessed by others. It can also never be fully removed from virtual space. Weak passwords or inadequate security precautions can make it possible for other people to access information stored in ‘private’ sections of user profiles or in email boxes. Even a strong password cannot provide a full guarantee against intrusion by hackers, or intrusion by state security agencies! Young people need to be aware of such risks, and need to exercise care and responsibility to protect details of their lives that they would not want others to know. They also need to be aware that if they do take adequate precautions, but someone manages to gain access to their private information, this is very likely to be illegal, and a violation of their right to privacy.

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