On March 24th, 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) adopted a resolution to appoint a special rapporteur on the right to privacy, to be appointed in June. By choosing to adopt this resolution the UNHRC is raising the international recognition and protection for the right to privacy.
One of the reasons this appointment is relevant for CaSMa is that the Special rapporteur will be tasked with “focusing in particular on the challenges arising from the digital age and new technologies, with the view to gathering information, studying trends, making recommendations, identifying possible obstacles and best practices, promoting principles and reporting on violations.” [our emphasis]
The Special rapporteur will be involved in developing common understandings and furthering a considered and substantive interpretation of the right to privacy. The rapporteur will provide guidance to states and companies and gather input from all stakeholders to ensure that privacy and other fundamental freedoms are respected.
As an independent expert, the Special rapporteur will also be tasked with reporting to the UNHRC and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on any alleged privacy violations, wherever they may occur, including challenges arising from new technologies.
Some of the other, CaSMa relevant, duties of the Special rapporteur that are mentioned in the resolution include:
- To identify possible obstacles to the promotion and protection of the right to privacy, to identify, exchange and promote principles and best practices at the national, regional and international levels, and to submit proposals and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in that regard, including with a view to particular challenges arising in the digital age;
- To raise awareness concerning the importance of promoting and protecting the right to privacy, including with a view to particular challenges arising in the digital age, as well as concerning the importance of providing individuals whose right to privacy has been violated with access to effective remedy, consistent with international human rights obligations.
Even though the resolution carefully avoids mentioning any specific states, actors or incidences, it is clear that the Snowden revelations played a pivotal role in the decision to put forward and pass this resolution, as illustrated by the fact that the resolution was introduced by Brazil and Germany, two counties that featured prominently as targets of NSA/GCHQ in the Snowden revelations. It will therefore be interesting to see how the person who is appointed as Special rapporteur decides to execute the position. Will the focus be firmly fixated on questions of government spying and legal frameworks around digital privacy? Or will there also be room to consider fundamental concepts about how digital devices and services are designed, to promote principles of ‘privacy-by-design’?