UN Human Rights Commissioner Takes on Privacy Rights in the Digital Age

On September 12, 2014, United Nation’s Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri warned about the growing concerns in regards to individual rights to privacy sparked by the rapid expansion of digital age movement. At this UN Human Rights Council discussion, she expressed to the delegation that policies and practices across the globe are taking advantage of the doors opened up by the digital age to collect information that are highly vulnerability to surveillance and data interception.

Ms. Pansieri stated that some of these surveillance practices are not only a violation of international human rights law, but can also greatly impact individuals’ human rights including their right to privacy, their rights to freedom of expression and opinion, their rights of assembly and their rights to family life and to health.

In an advance edited version of the first annual report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the “protection and promotion of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance and/or the interception of digital communications and the collection of personal data, including on a ‘mass scale’, it sets forth the international human rights laws that States are obligated to follow to ensure that individual rights to privacy are being protected against unlawful or arbitrary interference. The report makes clear that “all forms of communication surveillance must be conducted on the basis of public accessible law which, in turn, must comply with States’ own constitutional regimes and international human rights law.”

Ms. Pansieri also raised the concern over the role of the private sector in assisting governmental agencies in conducting and facilitating digital surveillance. In this respect, she stated that the “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” provides the global standards for addressing such human rights effects of business activities.

The issue of digital surveillance is obviously not new, but I am very happy to see that UN’s Human Rights Commissioner is taking the initiative to shed more light on this issue that we, as consumers and users of the Internet, deal with on a daily basis. It will be interesting to see where this discussion will go and how it could affect the scope of the controversial Patriot Act. All forms of communication that we engage in—be it on Facebook, cell phones, emails and even medical records—are susceptible to interception. While this is only the beginning of the Human Rights Commissioner’s journey in enforcing international human rights laws upon individual States, it will also be interesting to see how States and governments will respond to this global action.

Source: UN News Center 

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