UNHRC 31: ARTICLE 19 welcomes UN privacy watchdog’s first report

At the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN Special Rapporteur on privacy, Joe Cannataci, published his first report. The Special Rapporteur outlined his plan for the duration of his mandate, his working methods and some initial observations on the current state of privacy.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the report as an important first step towards the development of progressive UN standards of protection for the right to privacy.

In particular, we look forward to working with the Special Rapporteurs on both privacy and freedom of expression regarding the intersection between these two fundamental rights (para. 8 of the report). As two mutually interdependent rights, the Special Rapporteur on privacy’s efforts to define privacy more clearly are likely to have a significant impact on the right to freedom of expression.

The Special Rapporteur has set out a 10 Point Action plan for the mandate as follows:

  1. Go beyond the existing legal framework to a deeper understanding of the right to privacy;
  2. Increase awareness amongst citizens in order to help them understand what privacy is;
  3. Create a structured, on-going dialogue about privacy;
  4. Comprehensive approach to legal, procedural and operational safeguards and remedies;
  5. Renewed emphasis on technical safeguards;
  6. Specially-focused dialogue with the corporate world;
  7. Promote national and regional developments in privacy-protection mechanisms;
  8. Harness the energy and influence of civil society;
  9. Cyberspace, Cyber-privacy, Cyber-espionage, Cyberwar and Cyberpeace;
  10. Invest further in the development of standards for the protection of privacy under international law.

Given ARTICLE 19’s significant experience working with technical institutions such as ICANN, IETF, IEEE and the ITU, we will look to work with the Special Rapporteur on the technical standards that provide strong protection of the right to privacy.

ARTICLE 19 is in agreement with the Special Rapporteur’s assessment of the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill (para. 39). In particular, we join the Special Rapporteur in inviting the UK Government to “show greater commitment to protecting the fundamental right to privacy of its own citizens and those of others and also to desist from setting a bad example to other states by continuing to propose measures, especially bulk interception and bulk hacking, which prima facie fail the standards of several UK Parliamentary Committees, run counter to the most recent judgements of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, and undermine the spirit of the very right to privacy.”

As a founding member of Don’t Spy on Us, we will continue to the monitor progress of the Bill as it goes through the parliamentary process and call for the UK government to rethink those powers which cause us the greatest concern.

The challenges to privacy in the 21st century are immense. The Special Rapporteur is faced with a difficult task. We look forward to supporting him in his efforts to protect the right to privacy and wish him every success in his mandate.