Preliminary evaluation of the privacy dimensions of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic: report

27 July 2020
Issued by
The Special Rapporteur on the right to Privacy
To the GA at its 75th session


In this report, the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Joseph A. Cannataci, proposes a preliminary evaluation of the privacy dimensions of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The evidence base required to reach definitive conclusions on whether privacy-intrusive, anti-COVID-19 measures are necessary and proportionate in a democratic society is not yet available.


The Special Rapporteur examines two particular aspects of the impact of COVID-19 on the right to privacy: data protection and surveillance.

COVID-19-related surveillance and contact tracing may take various forms, and could be manual or technological, anonymous or not, consensual or non-consensual. Concerns arise when surveillance apparatus traditionally employed for State security purposes is proposed or hurriedly deployed for a public health purpose to track health data in the context of a pandemic.

If a State decides that technological surveillance is necessary as a response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, it must make sure that, after proving both the necessity and proportionality of the specific measure, it has a law that explicitly provides for such surveillance measures. The law must include safeguards, which, if not spelled out in sufficient detail, cannot be considered adequate under international law.

A more definitive report on the subject is planned for 2021 when more evidence will be available to enable a more accurate assessment.