International Standards relating to digital privacy
The right to privacy is central to the enjoyment and exercise of human rights online and offline. It serves as one of the foundations of a democratic society and plays a key role for the realization of a broad spectrum of human rights, including in the digital sphere, ranging from freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, access and enjoyment of economic and social rights. Interference with the right to privacy can also have a disproportionate impact on certain individuals and/or groups, thus exacerbating inequality and discrimination.
International legal framework
Article 12 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provide that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honor and reputation.
They further state that “everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” While the right to privacy under international human rights law is not absolute, any instance of interference must be provided by law and subject to a careful and critical assessment of its necessity and proportionality.
Since 2013, the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have adopted numerous resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age.
The most recent resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age was adopted by the Human Rights Council in September 2019:
Among the key aspects, the resolution recalls that States should ensure that any interference with the right to privacy is consistent with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. It affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including the right to privacy; and it acknowledges that the use, deployment and further development of new and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, can impact the enjoyment of the right to privacy and other human rights.
The resolution contains a range of recommendations to Member States and business enterprises aimed at ensuring respect and protection of the right to privacy in the digital age.
All resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age