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Issue

Human Rights and Constitutional Protections

Human rights conventions and national constitutions almost universally call for the protection of the right to privacy – the challenge is ensuring that governments comply with this requirement, particularly with respect to new technologies and in countries that lack the rule of law.

The modern privacy benchmark at an international level can be found in Article 12 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which specifically protects territorial and communications privacy. Numerous other international human rights treaties recognize privacy as a right: Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, Article 14 of the United Nations Convention on Migrant Workers, and Article 16 of the UN Convention of the Protection of the Child. Regional conventions that recognize the right to privacy includes Article 10 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Article 11 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 4 of the African Union Principles on Freedom of Expression, Article 5 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Article 21 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, and Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Constitutions regulate the relationship between citizens and the State and thus form the bedrock of civil, political and human rights protections. Constitutional protections of privacy have enabled human autonomy and curtailed significant government initiatives to interfere with individual rights in many countries around the world.

We work closely with international institutions to protect the right to privacy as enshrined in international conventions. We also work with groups in various countries to draw attention to how their national governments’ surveillance measures may not comply with international human rights, or with the language of their constitutions. We aim to help governments and legal institutions understand how privacy and technological change should be reflected in their constitutional frameworks.

Human Rights and Constitutional Protections

Report
22-Oct-2012

This country report is an evaluation of telecommunications privacy and surveillance laws, policies and practices in India. It was produced under the 'Privacy in the Developing World' project, funded by the International Development Research Centre in Canada.

We aim to keep our knowledge of the state of privacy across the world as up-to-date as possible - it is a huge undertaking and we are always keen to gather more local knowledge. If you have some information to share or you spot an error, please drop us a line at info@privacy.org. If you would like to support this crucial research project, please consider making a donation.

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

Privacy International has urged the Australian Parliament to ensure that rigorous legal and judicial safeguards are at the heart of future reforms to national security legislation. In a submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security, Privacy International gave its full support to the objections raised by the Australian Privacy Foundation in its submission to the Inquiry into Potential Reforms of National Security. The Inquiry is considering a discussion paper published by the Australian Attorney-General's Department which envisages a number of draconian reforms to Australian national security and communication policies, including increased powers to monitor and intercept communications. 

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

Last week the Rwandan government tightened its grip on citizens when the parliament's lower house adopted legislation that sanctions the widespread monitoring of email and telephone communications.1 The bill is now awaiting Senate approval. 

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

Imagine a secret government list of suspicions and allegations, fuelled by unsubstantiated rumours provided by anonymous citizens with undisclosed intentions. The information contained in the list would not be measured against any legal burden of proof or supported by any credible evidence, but would – simply by its existence – become “fact”. Imagine, then, if the government could rely upon such “facts” to identify and implicate individuals for illegal behaviour. Such a system would be reminiscent of McCarthyistic tactics to ferret out suspected communists and traitors in 1950s America.

Blog
Dr Gus Hosein's picture

Governments have no automatic right of access to our communications. This will sound highly controversial to some, even downright radical. But the demands of national security and crime prevention do not, in fact, immediately trump every other right and responsibility in the complex relationship between citizen and state. 

The recent Skype argument is a great example. Skype has always prided itself on being a secure method of communication. Businesses, government agencies, human rights organisations and other groups that value security therefore adopted Skype wholesale - but now there are questions about how Skype allows access to its users' communications.

Some argue that, on a moral basis, Skype has to build its technology in such a way that permits government access. Others wrongly believe that they have a legal obligation to do so. But in whose interests does Skype develop its product?  

Report
30-Jul-2012

This briefing provides an overview of privacy and surveillance laws, policies and practices in Bahrain. The regulations that permit access to personal data, the communications interception regime and relevant consitutional safeguards are highlighted and examined. This is not intended to be a full analysis, but rather contains all the necessary information to facilitate a basic understanding of surveillance practices inside Bahrain, especially with regards to to foreign companies supplying surveillance and monitoring technologies. 

We aim to keep our knowledge of the state of privacy across the world as up-to-date as possible - this is a huge undertaking and we are always keen to gather more local knowledge. If you have some information to share or you spot an error, please drop us a line at info@privacy.org. If you would like to support this crucial research project, please consider making a donation.

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

Last week’s revelation that Bahraini human rights activists have been targeted by advanced surveillance technology made by British company Gamma is yet another nail in the coffin of privacy and freedom of expression in Bahrain.

Over the past ten years, Bahraini citizens, among the most internet-connected in the Middle East, have been subjected to increasingly oppressive controls on and intrusions into their online and offline lives. The internet is heavily patrolled, and free speech curtailed, by laws which prohibit the publication of material that is offensive to Islam or the king, or that are perceived as undermining state security or the monarchy. Content that is politically sensitive is censored, websites run by national and international non-governmental organisations are blocked, and bloggers, activists and movements are silenced. Moreover, a culture of self-censorship is pervading Bahrain as the government’s capacity for surveillance expands.

Blog
Eric King's picture

Privacy International has compiled data on the privacy provisions in national constitutions around the world, including which countries have constitutional protections, whether they come from international agreements, what aspects of privacy are actually protected and when those protections were enacted. We are pleased to make this information available under a Creative Commons license for organizations, researchers, students and the community at large to use to support their work (and hopefully contribute to a greater understanding of privacy rights).

The categories

Though the right to privacy exists in several international instruments, the most effective privacy protections come in the form of constitutional articles. Varying aspects of the right to privacy are protected in different ways by different countries. Broad categories include:

Blog
Georgia Ardizzone's picture

The 2012 report of the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), released last Friday, has raised serious concerns over the government’s approach to arms exports, highlighting the use of British exports to facilitate repression and prolong conflict in authoritarian regimes abroad.

In his oral evidence to the Committees, the Foreign Secretary William Hague, stressed that the government’s position on granting export licences for goods on the Export Control list has not changed:

The long-standing British position is clear: we will not issue licences where we judge there is a clear risk that the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression."

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

Privacy is internationally recognized as a fundamental right. Yet the confines of the right to privacy are subject to never-ending games of tug-of-war between individuals, governments and corporations. These games are rarely fair – individuals are often under-informed and lack the capacity to assert and protect their privacy, while those who seek to erode it are increasingly overbearing and secretive. This is particularly the case in developing countries, where the absence of adequate legal and institutional frameworks and safeguards facilitates unhindered corporate intrusion into privacy. Governments also collect and share excessive amounts of personal data in the name of development, security and the modernization of public administration. In many developing countries, though constitutional provisions may already exist, privacy is still being entrenched, and the capacity of human rights organizations to educate and advocate is still growing. But in the meantime, governments are spying on their citizens, corporations are buying and selling personal data, and individuals are consistently losing the tug-of-war. 

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