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Thematic reports

A/75/147: Preliminary evaluation of the privacy dimensions of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic: report


27 July 2020

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Privacy and surveillance

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.

Issued By:

Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy

Delivered To:

the General Assembly at its 75th session