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Guidelines for submitting complaints and/or information to the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy

The Special Rapporteur is mandated to promote and protect the right to privacy, particularly in the digital age. To that end, the Human Rights Council has requested the Special Rapporteur to seek credible and reliable information from Governments, non-governmental organizations and any other parties who have knowledge of pertinent situations and cases.

1. Who can submit information?

Any party who has knowledge of a violation to the right to privacy. This includes Governments, nongovernmental organizations, individuals, including alleged victims, legal representatives, family members, private companies and other United Nations and intergovernmental bodies.

2. The Special Rapporteur is particularly interested in receiving information on violations related to:

  • The surveillance and/or interception of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance and/or interception of communications, in particular when carried on a mass scale
  • The use, detention and retention of personal data by State and non-State actors – including corporate online businesses
  • The use of forensic DNA databases
  • The use of Open Data and Big Data

3. What happens when the information reaches the Special Rapporteur?

  • As information arrives, the Special Rapporteur first seeks to determine if it falls within the mandate.
  • Secondly, every effort is made to verify the information and seek additional details if necessary.
  • Thirdly, the Special Rapporteur reaches out to the Government of the State where the alleged violation is thought to have occurred. This is usually done through urgent appeals or allegation letters (called 'communications') addressed to the State’s diplomatic mission in Geneva for transmission to capitals or to the non-State actor concerned. The letters provide details of the victim(s), the alleged events and the human rights concerns.
  • All communications sent, and replies received from Governments (if any) are confidential and remain so until the publication of the joint communications report to the Human Rights Council three times per year in March, June and September (communication reports are available at the following link: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/CommunicationsreportsSP.aspx

4. What is the objective of the Special Rapporteur’s intervention?

The primary objective of these letters is to contribute to promoting and protecting the right to privacy by ensuring that State authorities are informed of allegations as early as possible and that they have an opportunity to investigate them and to end or prevent any human rights violation. With both urgent appeal and other letters, the Special Rapporteur asks the Government to take all appropriate measures to investigate and address the alleged events and to communicate back the results.

The communications of the Special Rapporteur in no way imply an accusation or value judgment. They are a mean to intervene directly with Governments on allegations of violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to seek clarification in order to promote and protect these rights.

5. What happens next?

The Special Rapporteur aims at establishing a direct dialogue with the government. Ideally, the Governments concerned examine the alleged facts and take action to prevent or end any violation. They are urged to respond as soon as possible to urgent appeals and respond to other letters within a period of 60 days.

If the Special Rapporteur received new allegations, he may send a follow-up communication to the State concerned. However, while every communication will be carefully considered, resource limitations make it difficult for the Special Rapporteur to follow-up on every case.

Additionally, and when appropriate, the Special Rapporteur will use his capacity to raise public awareness on the situation.

6. Confidentiality

In cases where individuals are the alleged victims of violations, the Special Rapporteur seeks either their direct consent or the agreement of their families or lawyers if access is restricted. The identity of individuals and organizations that send information to the Special Rapporteur is always kept confidential and is never referred to in the letters to Governments or non-State actors or in public reports.

7. How to ask the Special Rapporteur to take action?

Please write an email to sprivacy@ohchr.org, indicating the relevant country and violation(s), along with your name and contact details. Note that there is no need for a formal letter; what is most important is that you summarize in a one-page document (written in English or French) the following information:

  • Where? The place(s) where the alleged violation(s) took place, including the country and city
  • When? Day when the alleged violation took place
  • Who is/are the alleged victim(s), indicating gender, first and last name, type of activity the victim(s) is/are undertaking, and whether they explicitly agree to having their identities disclosed to the relevant authorities and in the public report (see confidentiality policy above)
  • Who is/are the perpetrator(s), if known?
  • For non-State actors, description of how they relate to the State (e.g. cooperation with or support by State security forces);
  • What happened? Brief but detailed description of events that led you to write to the Special Rapporteur
  • What is the current situation? Time indications of all events are important, if available.
  • What actions have been taken? Has the matter been reported to the relevant authorities?
  • When the alleged violation concerns a draft bill, law or regulation, your email should include, among other things:
    • A electronic copy of the said draft bill, law or regulation, if available
    • Your analysis of the problematic legal provisions, ideally article by article
    • In the case of draft bills, an overview of the process by which they could become laws and where we are in this process today;
    • in the case of laws, if and how they have been implemented

8. Follow-up

The Special Rapporteur attaches great importance to being kept informed of the current status of cases and thus very much welcomes updates of previously reported cases and information. This includes both negative and positive developments - including the release of persons detained in violation of their rights to privacy - or the adoption of new laws or policies or changes to existing ones that have an impact on the realization of the right to privacy.

Please remember to keep us timely informed of any relevant update regarding the case!