Skip to main content

Countdown to Human Rights Day

Meet the winners of the 2023 Human Rights Prize

Learn more

Press releases Special Procedures

States must bridge privacy gap in intelligence sharing, says UN human rights expert

01 March 2019

GENEVA (1 March 2019) - New measures to safeguard personal information exchanged between intelligence services and law-enforcement agencies have been proposed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Joseph Cannataci,.in his latest report to the Human Rights Council.

“Personal data is exchanged between intelligence agencies on a regular basis but this exchange and the consequences are not necessarily subject to oversight by independent agencies located in either the sending or receiving State,” Cannataci told the Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

“In some cases, existing legislation effectively prevents oversight or even consultation between the relevant authorities in the two States, so countries must amend their laws to enable this.

“Sharing any personal information both within a country or across borders must be subject to appropriate oversight under the principle that: ‘If it’s exchangeable, then it’s overseeable’,” Cannataci said.

He believed it was crucial to address the issue because present practice left open the question of whether data transferred from one country to another, and thus the privacy of the individuals concerned, was currently protected to the same standards in both States involved. 

Cannataci also recommended that member States, when considering the use of bulk surveillance, should adopt as much as possible, the criteria and safeguards featured in two landmark judgements by the European Court of Human Rights in 2018, which involved the activities of intelligence services: Centrum for Rattvisa vs. Sweden, and Big Brother Watch and others vs. UK.

The UN expert also presented two other reports to the Council; one on Privacy and Health Data and the other on Privacy and Gender. Both are open to consultation until June 2019.


Mr. Joseph Cannataci (Malta) was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy by the Human Rights Council in July 2015, with his mandate being renewed in 2018 until July 2021. He is an academic who has had a pioneering role in the development of data protection, privacy law and technology law. A UK Chartered Information Technology Professional & Fellow of the British Computer Society, he also continues to act as Expert Consultant to a number of international organisations.

The Special Rapporteurs are 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 organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact:
Mr. Jon Izagirre Garcia (+41 22 917 9715 / [email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact
Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

Concerned about the world we live in? Then STAND UP for someone’s rights today. #Standup4humanrights and visit the web page at