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UK Statement at the Panel on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, Human Rights Council, Geneva

UK statement on 12 September reaffirming that the rights to privacy which exist offline apply online.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Human Rights Council in session
The Human Rights Council is taking place in Geneva from 8 to 26 September

The UK aligns itself with the statement of the EU and makes the following additional comments.

The resolution which established today’s discussion reaffirmed the importance of guarding against arbitrary or unlawful interference with an individual’s privacy. It also recognised the importance of this right as fundamental for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. The UK is fully and actively committed to upholding the right to privacy and to reaffirming that the rights which exist offline apply online and agree that these should be the principal concerns which guide our thinking.

The UK is fully and actively committed to upholding the right to privacy and to reaffirming that the rights which exist offline apply online.

I have listened carefully to the debate today and thank the panel for their commitment and contributions. It strikes me that the question is not about pointing the finger but about where is the appropriate balance between law enforcement, the right of citizens to go about their lawful business, enjoying the rights and freedoms in the Universal Declaration and the ability of the global community to interact positively and openly.

Suggestions that Governments use surveillance routinely, indiscriminately, and for the purpose of targeting political opposition members and dissidents arouse concern for all of us who support open and democratic societies.

Yet we also have to recognise the role that intelligence work has always had in protecting national and international security, ensuring our citizens are safe from crime and terrorism. Our challenge is to ensure that the right to privacy, which like many is a qualified right, is respected while at the same time fulfilling the duty every State has to protect its citizens.

The report raises a number of specific concerns around the collection and retention of data. Underpinning all of these concerns is the need for transparency and effective oversight. Where data is collected it is important that, as in the UK, those involved operate within a strict legal framework and are subject to stringent oversight mechanisms.

Though we welcome much of the analysis of the report there are several areas where we would not share its interpretation. In particular, we believe that the application of the ICCPR provisions on jurisdiction can only apply beyond a state’s territory in very exceptional circumstances; the interpretation in this report is more wide-reaching than has ever been established.

In Tallinn earlier this year the Governments of the Freedom Online Coalition, including the UK, committed to conduct their activities with respect to the rule of law, legitimate purpose, non-arbitrariness, effective oversight and transparency – and called on others to do the same. The Coalition is also looking at the relationship between Governments and business and I hope this work can help to address some of the issues raised in Section IV of the report.

In considering the issue of privacy in the digital age the principles I have set out here should guide our future discussions and actions.

Published 12 September 2014