The Human Rights Council of the United Nations has passed a resolution to strengthen the right of privacy in a digital age. For this they have appointed a special rapporteur for privacy rights.

The Council had voted in March this year for a resolution backed by Germany and Brazil that has gained more and more significance ever since. The intention behind it was to defend and promote privacy not only in “real life” but also in digital age.

In times of massive surveillance through government agencies, industrial espionage, and cyber-crime the necessity for secure and private digital communication and data becomes clearer than ever. E-mail and other common digital communication methods lack the necessary level of privacy that would be needed in order to protect sensitive private, corporate and political data. As a consequence an increasing number of soft- and hardware companies start implementing encryption in their products by default.

While this is a welcome development for the user, agencies and governments especially from the US and UK see a major problem in it. According to them the spread in use of encryption hinders the fight against crime and more particularly terrorism. Therefore they are discussing bans on encryption for non-governmental use altogether or alternatively weaken the products by building in backdoors. Whilst one can’t deny the importance and legitimacy of law enforcement many experts and spokesmen from the industry see this as the wrong approach. A better way for the officials would be to find a common solutions in dialogue with experts from companies and research that leaves users with proper encryption while not encouraging terrorists and ill-minded people to misuse it.

This general opinion has recently been backed by the United Nations. They declare the right to privacy and encryption in digital age as fundamental and act on enforcing them. For this they created the role of a special rapporteur for privacy who has the following mandate;

  • "To gather relevant information, including on international and national frameworks, national practices and experience, to study trends, developments and challenges in relation to the right to privacy and to make recommendations to ensure its promotion and protection, including in connection with the challenges arising from new technologies;
  • To seek, receive and respond to information, while avoiding duplication, from States, the United Nations and its agencies, programmes and funds, regional human rights mechanisms, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, the private sector, including business enterprises, and any other relevant stakeholders or parties;
  • 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 participate in and contribute to relevant international conferences and events with the aim of promoting a systematic and coherent approach on issues pertaining to the mandate;
  • 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;
  • To integrate a gender perspective throughout the work of the mandate;
  • To report on alleged violations, wherever they may occur, of the right to privacy, as set out in article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including in connection with the challenges arising from new technologies, and to draw the attention of the Council and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to situations of particularly serious concern;
  • To submit an annual report to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly, starting at the thirty-first session and the seventy-first session respectively;” (Source)

The council appointed the candidate Joe Cannataci special rapporteur for the coming three years.