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Update: Human rights organisations call on UN to establish a Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy

Date: 
2 March 2015

UPDATE:  Since the original publication of this post in early February, over fifty additional national and international human rights organisations have joined us and called on all governments to support the creation of a UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy. 

This recent wave of support, bringing the total number up to 63, comes at a critical time. As the UN Human Rights Council begins its 28th session in Geneva today, the Council has perhaps the most significant opportunity to strengthen the respect and promotion of the right to privacy by establishing a UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. If established, the Rapporteur will provide much-needed leadership and guidance on developing an understanding of the scope and content on the right to privacy, as well as strengthening the monitoring of states and companies' compliance with their responsibility to respect and protect the right to privacy in their laws, policies and practices.

Read the updated letter here and continue reading for more information.

03 February -- In a few short weeks, the UN Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva. In what is perhaps the most significant opportunity to strengthen the respect and promotion of the right to privacy the Council is expected to consider the possibility of establishing a Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

If established, the rapporteur will provide much-needed leadership and guidance on developing an understanding of the scope and content on the right to privacy, as well as strengthening the monitoring of states and companies' compliance with their responsibility to respect and protect the right to privacy in their laws, policies and practices.

That's why this week Privacy International and ten other human rights organisations wrote to all member states of the Human Rights Council to encourage them to support the creation of a Special Rapporteur. 

The UN General Assembly, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and existing special procedure mandate holders have all recognized the pressing need to provide continuous, systematic and authoritative guidance on the scope and content of the right to privacy as enshrined in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR.)

Significantly, all of them have identified the need to monitor the ongoing implementation of the right to privacy. The creation of a Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy would respond to such need.

Here's why:

A Special Rapporteur would increase the level of protection and promotion of the right to privacy:

  • Develop an understanding of the right to privacy - a dedicated Special Rapporteur would play a critical role in furthering common understandings and authoritative interpretation of the right to privacy. The mandate would also develop a coherent and complementary approach to the interaction between privacy, freedom of expression and other rights.
  • Providing guidance to states and companies - a Special Rapporteur would ensure that privacy is given appropriate weight in legislative and policy responses, and would provide states and companies with authoritative guidance and technical assistance to support them in fulfilling their obligations to respect and protect the right to privacy.
  • Monitoring and reporting on violations of the right to privacy - a Special Rapporteur would investigate reports of violations of the right to privacy wherever they may occur, raise concerns with relevant governments and other actors and make recommendations to help ensuring the right to privacy of individuals is respected and protected.

Within the UN system, a Special Rapporteur would provide much-needed intellectual leadership on privacy:

  • Filling an institutional gap - no existing special procedures mandate explicitly covers privacy. A Special Rapporteur would enable the Human Rights Council to provide the necessary leadership in identifying and clarifying principles, standards and best practices on the right to privacy.
  • Providing leadership – a Special Rapporteur would be able to engage with a range of stakeholders, playing a critical role in developing common understandings of the right to privacy across a variety of settings.

To fulfill its role, a Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy would undertake the following activities:

  • Producing studies, documenting best practices and developing principles and guidelines, relating to the promotion and protection of the right to privacy;
  • Monitoring the application of the right to privacy, including by receiving and seeking information from states, businesses, NGOs, and other actors; and carrying out country visits, and making recommendations on ways and means to ensure the promotion and protection of the right to privacy;
  • Reporting on violations of the right to privacy wherever they may occur;
  • Providing a forum for engagement on privacy issues for civil society representatives and others, including victims of violations of the right; leading and participating in consultation with relevant UN bodies and other stakeholders to establish a common understanding of the right that is grounded in human rights principles;
  • Reporting periodically to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.

The UN over the past two years has taken serious steps to address the protection of the right to privacy. The establishment of a Special Rapporteur would be one of the most significant things to continue this momentum.