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Human Rights : Your Rights to Privacy

By: Anna Hinds BA (hons) - Updated: 28 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Human Rights Act European Convention

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) The principle of basic human rights officiated by the United Nations and recognised all over the world, includes an essential right to dignity and privacy. How does it translate into everyday life?

The History of Human Rights

Although philosophers started debating the idea of natural human rights back in the 17th and 18th centuries, nothing was set out on paper until the mid twentieth century. Shocking as this may sound, it doesn’t mean that society ran amok until then – it was always an unspoken rule that human beings should respect one another, enjoying equal freedom and privacy.

What are our Basic Rights?

When people tried to formalise the principles of human rights, they disagreed on some of the key elements. Philosopher John Locke believed that natural rights were bestowed by the creator, and that they include a fundamental “right to property”. In 1776 the United States added “happiness” to the list, with a declaration that “all men are created equal… and among these [rights] are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. All over the world, different cultures placed emphasis on different aspects. Later, it was suggested that there are two basic kinds of rights: negative rights, which nobody can remove from people (life, expression, equality); and positive rights, which state powers are expected to provide to people (work, education, healthcare). Whoever you asked, from Asia to America, the concept of human rights was widely accepted – but it took two centuries before it was put onto paper.

The European Convention on Human Rights

After the Second World War – which had raised all sorts of questions about international prisoner rights, women’s rights, and child labour – a European Convention was proposed. The UK signed up immediately and put some of its finest lawyers to work as part of the drafting team. The 14-part Convention was signed in 1953. Although 45 countries are now signed up to the Convention, many have refused to agree to the various protocols that were added at later dates.

Your Right to Privacy

Article 8 of the European Convention set out what has become the definition of your right to privacy. It determines that every human being has a right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence. It’s been called upon in many thousands of court cases, defending unfairly sacked employees, adulterers, and victims of sexual harassment. In 1998, this Article formed the basis of the Human Rights Act, and is now firmly settled in UK law.

The Human Rights Act - What You Need to Know

Under the Human Rights Act (and Article 8), your entitlement to privacy includes:

  • The right to a private identity (and to change gender if you wish).

  • The right to have, and maintain, private relationships.

  • The right to respect for your privacy.

  • The right to physical privacy at home and work.

  • The right to respect for your family and your home.

  • The right to refuse medical treatment.

If any person or company is found to be interfering with your right to privacy, they are in breach of the law – unless they can demonstrate the following:

  • Their action was in accordance with law – having good legal basis.

  • They acted in the interests of the law, national security, health protection, or economic protection of society.

  • Their action was ‘necessary’ – it was specifically taken to suit the purpose, and it wasn’t out of proportion (like tapping a telephone line just because someone spent suspiciously long in the staff toilet).

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