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The fundamental human right to privacy does not depend on the passport in your pocket

NEW YORK (24 October 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Joseph Cannataci, presented his first report* to the General Assembly on the 24th of October 2016. He defined five Top priorities for upcoming activities which he calls “Thematic Action Streams”. These are: Big Data and Open Data; Security and Surveillance; Health Data; Personal data processed by corporations; and “A better understanding of Privacy”.

Data Retention and Bulk collection issues still unresolved

“Despite the rulings of numerous national constitutional and regional human rights courts, it is observed that there is an increased tendency for governments to promote more invasive laws for surveillance, which often allow for the thinly disguised permanent mass surveillance of citizens,” Mr. Cannataci said to the UN General Assembly.

He went further on to clarify: “It is deeply concerning that stable and progressive liberal democracies like Germany last Friday voted for a new law on the activities of one of their security services, which legalize practices that seem unnecessary and/or disproportionate for a large number of national and international experts, civil society and corporations. I am particularly disappointed by provisions in national laws which discriminate against citizens of foreign states.”

While understanding the need to tackle the threats of potential terrorist attacks and serious crime, Mr. Cannataci reiterated: “Art 12 of the UNDHR and Art 17 of the ICCPR do not state that the right to privacy is a right which is only enjoyed by the citizens of one’s own state. I very strongly maintain that the right to privacy of every citizen of the world should be safeguarded in laws governing surveillance and that the distinction between one’s own citizens and “foreigners” is useless in practice and not in compliance with the principles of the universal right to privacy.”

The aftermath of San Bernadino and Apple vs FBI

Mr. Cannataci also raised his concerns to use the information people entrust their smartphones with against them during criminal investigations: “The very characteristics of a mobile phone which make it such a special repository of personal data, also make it the most obvious tool which could totally and effectively undermine the right to silence […]

Yet a judicial warrant to access data held on a phone could effectively breach that right. The accused may have the right to remain silent, but his or her phone could speak volumes about the most private of his or her thoughts, interests and actions.”
Mr. Cannataci is very concerned about developments in the area and supports technologies such as encryption.

Upcoming country visits and high profile events

Mr. Cannataci concluded his speech by stating: “In my first full year in office, I have visited 14 countries during 20 trips undertaken for my mandate. […] The next 12 months will also include at least two and possibly three official country visits, all tentatively scheduled, at least one each on three different continents (Europe, Africa and Latin America).”

(*) The full report is available here: http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/71/368


Mr. Joseph Cannataci (Malta) was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy by the Human Rights Council in July 2015. The appointment is for three years. As Special Rapporteur, Mr. Cannataci is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Privacy/SR/Pages/SRPrivacyIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please write to srprivacy@ohchr.org

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