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The International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance in the jurisprudence of regional human rights courts

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Privacy International is grateful to the students and staff of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law Clinical Legal Education Centre, for providing research assistance to this paper.

The advent of new technologies and the Internet have provided new challenges to long-standing human rights norms. By facilitating increased State surveillance and intervention into individuals’ private lives, the spread of digital technologies has created a serious need for States to update their understandings and regulation of surveillance and modify their practices to ensure that individuals’ human rights are respected and protect.

Accordingly, in July 2013, Privacy International, in conjunction with the Electronic Fronteir Foundation, Access and a range of civil society organisations and academic experts, launched the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance. The Principles articulate what international human rights law – which binds every country across the globe – requires of governments when conducting surveillance in the digital age.

This briefing paper traces the Principles to their roots in international human rights law, as expressed in the jurisprudence of the two major regional human rights courts: the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The paper focuses on the Principles relating to legality, legitimate aim, necessity and proportionality; user notification and transparency; safeguards against illegitimate access; and due process.