A coalition of 63 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world are calling on national governments to support the establishment of a special rapporteur on the right to privacy within the United Nations.
According to U.N. documents, special rapporteurs (also known as special procedures) are appointed by the Human Rights Council and operate as independent experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic — in this case privacy — or country-specific perspective.
Among the letter’s signatories is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who in a DeepLinks blog entry explained that the right to privacy is among the few universal human rights lacking specialist attention in the U.N.
“The establishment of a special rapporteur on the right to privacy is a key step that the United Nations can take to ensure that the right to privacy is given meaning and practical application in the light of technological developments,” wrote EFF international rights director, Katitza Rodriguez. “A special rapporteur would play a critical role in developing common understandings and furthering a considered and substantive interpretation of the right to privacy in a variety of settings.”
In addition to the EFF, the letter boasts signatures from the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Center for Democracy and Technology and Human Rights Watch, as well as some 58 other advocacy organizations. In December, the U.N. General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age, setting up the possibility of establishing a special procedure for theme.
“The current lack of a dedicated thematic special procedure on the right to privacy hinders the capacity of the HRC to provide leadership in protecting and promoting this right, particularly as modern technologies are enabling interferences with privacy on an unprecedented scale,” the cosigners wrote. “A Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy would fill this significant institutional gap and enable the HRC to take a leading role in identifying and clarifying principles, standards and best practices regarding the promotion and protection of the right to privacy.”
The U.N. Human Rights Council is set to consider the possibility of creating a privacy watchdog special procedure in its current, 28th ordinary session, set to expire in Geneva on March 27.
“There is a pressing need to better articulate the content of this right as part of international human rights law and produce guides on its interpretation,” the EFF’s Rodriguez said, “particularly as modern technologies are enabling communications surveillance—and consequent interference with this right—on an unprecedented and damaging scale.”
The letter claims that the special procedure for privacy rights is endorsed by a number of U.N. member states in addition to the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.