New UN resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age: crucial and timely

Deborah Brown at the Internet Policy Review: “The rapid pace of technological development enables individuals all over the world to use new information and communications technologies (ICTs) to improve their lives. At the same time, technology is enhancing the capacity of governments, companies and individuals to undertake surveillance, interception and data collection, which may violate or abuse human rights, in particular the right to privacy. In this context, the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee adoption on 21 November of a new resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age comes as timely and crucial for protecting the right to privacy in light of new challenges.

As with previous UN resolutions on this topic, the resolution adopted on 21 November 2016 recognises the importance of respecting international commitments in relation to the right to privacy. It underscores that any legitimate concerns states may have with regard to their security can and should be addressed in a manner consistent with obligations under international human rights law.

Recognising that more and more personal data is being collected, processed, and shared, this year’s resolution expresses concern about the sale or multiple re-sales of personal data, which often happens without the individual’s free, explicit and informed consent. It calls for the strengthening of prevention of and protection against such violations, and calls on states to develop preventative measures, sanctions, and remedies.

This year, the resolution more explicitly acknowledges the role of the private sector. It calls on states to put in place (or maintain) effective sanctions and remedies to prevent the private sector from committing violations and abuses of the right to privacy. This is in line with states’ obligations under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which require states to protect against abuses by businesses within their territories or jurisdictions. The resolution specifically calls on states to refrain from requiring companies to take steps that interfere with the right to privacy in an arbitrary or unlawful way. With respect to companies, it recalls the responsibility of the private sector to respect human rights, and specifically calls on them to inform users about company policies that may impact their right to privacy….(More)”