The right to privacy in the digital age: report

Published:
3 August 2018
Author:
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Presented:
At the 39th session of the Human Rights Council

Background

In resolution A/HRC/34/7, the Human Rights Council requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report identifying and clarifying principles, standards and best practices regarding the promotion and protection of the right to privacy in the digital age, including the responsibility of business enterprises in this regard, and present it to the Human Rights Council at its thirty-ninth session.

The report builds on the 2014 report by the High Commissioner on the right to privacy in the digital age (A/HRC/27/37) and on the presentations and discussions at an expert workshop that took place in Geneva in February 2018.

Summary

The need to address the challenges that the digital world brings to the right to privacy is more acute than ever. Increasingly powerful data-intensive technologies, such as big data and artificial intelligence, threaten to create an intrusive digital environment in which both States and business enterprises are able to conduct surveillance, analyse, predict and even manipulate people’s behaviour to an unprecedented degree. While there is no denying that data-driven technologies can be put to highly beneficial uses, these technological developments carry very significant risks for human dignity, autonomy and privacy and the exercise of human rights in general if not managed with great care.

This report provides guidance on how to address some of the pressing challenges that the right to privacy faces in the digital age. It provides a brief overview of the international legal framework and includes a discussion of the most significant current trends. It then turns to the obligations of States and the responsibility of business enterprises, including a discussion of adequate safeguards and oversight. The final chapter gives some insights into how remedies can be provided for privacy infringements and abuses.

Inputs received

Early in 2018, we asked Member States, agencies, organisations, NHRIs and individuals to submit their input to aid in the preparation of this report. The topics included surveillance, encryption and anonymity, national regulatory/legislative frameworks, biometric data, marginalised groups and safeguarding.

Member States

Specialized agencies and intergovernmental organizations

National Human Rights Institutions

National independent agencies

Civil Society Organizations

Other stakeholders