The right to privacy in the digital age (focus on surveillance): report


Published:
30 June and 19 December 2014
Author:
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Presented:
To the Human Rights Council at its 27th session (September 2014) and to the General Assembly at its 69th session (December 2014)
Link:
A/HRC/27/37
A/HRC/28/39 (panel discussion)


Background

Through the adoption of resolution 68/167, the General Assembly requested that the High Commissioner for Human Rights prepare a report on the right to privacy in the digital age. In the words of the resolution, the report was to examine: “The protection and promotion of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance and/or interception of digital communications and collection of personal data, including on a mass scale”.

Panel discussion on the right to privacy in the digital age

In its decision 25/117, adopted in March 2014, the Human Rights Council decided to convene at its twenty-seventh session a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of the right to privacy in the digital age. This was in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance and the interception of digital communications and collection of personal data, including on a mass scale, with a view to identifying challenges and best practices.

The Human Rights Council requested that the High Commissioner organise the panel discussion in consultation with States, relevant United Nations bodies, civil society, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and national human rights institutions. The discussion took place on 12 September 2014. OHCHR then prepared a summary report on the outcome, which was submitted to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-eighth session.

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, analyze, predict and even manipulate people’s behavior 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

OHCHR encouraged all interested parties to share information and perspectives on the issues raised in resolution 68/167 - [See Note Verbale to Member States].

Member States

International and regional organizations

National human rights institutions

Civil society

Business entities