Privacy as a Human Right – Coping with the New Challenges

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Introduction

The word “privacy,” often evokes the thought of one desiring to be alone while doing certain things. Example, making a personal phone call, a person may not want anyone else to listen to his conversation. However, Privacy goes beyond the physical space. It includes what happens to the record of that phone call which was taken with the exclusion of others as well as the information stored in the apps on that phone, the internet browser, and many others.

Privacy enables the creation of barriers and management of boundaries to protect from unwarranted interference. Privacy allows individuals to negotiate how they want to interact with the world around them. It helps establish boundaries to limit who has access to a person, place and things, as well as communications and information.

The rules that protect privacy give one the ability to assert his rights in the face of significant power imbalances.

Privacy as a Fundamental Human Right

Privacy is a fundamental human right that is central to the protection of human dignity and forms the basis of any democratic society. The right to privacy embodies the presumption that individuals should have an area of autonomous development, interaction, and liberty, with or without interaction with others, free from arbitrary state intervention and from excessive unsolicited intervention by other uninvited individuals.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (“Constitution”) recognises privacy as a fundamental right. Section IV, Article 37 of the Constitution protects the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications. Right to Privacy is also enshrined in numerous international human rights instruments. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art 12; Convention on the Rights of the Child, art 16; African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, art 10; American Convention on Human Rights, art 11; African Union Principles on Freedom of Expression, art 4, are but a few of these instruments.

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Why Privacy Right Protection is Important

As earlier stated, Privacy Right is all about boundaries and protection. There are numerous reasons why a person’s right to privacy is important and should be protected. The right to privacy is considered fundamental because privacy protects so many other rights. It supports and reinforces the right to freedom of expression, information, and association. Without the right to privacy, it would be impossible to protect freedom. Everyone could be openly and easily monitored and intimidated by much more powerful forces. People in certain professions such as journalists, critics of government policies, human right activists and many others would all have their lives, computers and other gadgets monitored or seized and searched without consequences which would in turn invariably threaten the right to freedom of speech.

The New Challenges

It is now very clear that Governments spy on citizens. It becomes even more worrisome with technological capabilities which has taken surveillance to new levels. Spyglasses and eaves dropping from a roof are no longer necessary to observe individuals. Government can and does utilize methods to observe all the behaviour and actions of people without the need for a spy to be physically present.  In 2021 a report by the Action Group on Free Civic Space revealed that Nigerian states and the federal government have been using surveillance technologies to snoop on citizens’ data and communications on their devices. This they claim at the time is used by the Government to track down rights activists, journalists, opposition politicians, and other targeted citizens. This act of citizens surveillance is not peculiar to Nigerian Government alone. As a matter of fact, it is even more prevalence in countries with more advanced and more sophisticated technology.

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Clearly, these advancements in technology have a profound impact with regards to the ethics of placing individual under surveillance in a modern society, where so many of people’s actions are observable, recorded, searchable, and traceable, close surveillance is much more intrusive than it has been in the past. Yet,  “National security” is often given as an excuse, but the right to privacy is clearly being violated in most of these instances.

Interestingly, Governments aren’t the only entities that want people’s data. Corporations also use data collected of people for their benefit. They are constantly collecting info to study your shopping habits, what you like and dislike, and more. They often say it’s to improve customer service, but this information can be weaponized, too.

The future of privacy rights

While the rapid technology changes may represent a lot of opportunities for the world, it also increases the threats to privacy rights. We already discussed surveillance, but attacks against privacy also include data breaches, a lack of transparency regarding the extent of these breaches, and companies that store data avoiding responsibility. In 2020, the UN released a new resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age. It recognized how technological development improves the ability of governments, businesses, and individuals to survey, intercept, and collect data.

There are increase in the number of regulations supporting an individual’s rights to privacy. In Europe, where regulations are rather stringent, there is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The U.S. isn’t far behind with the passage of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in 2018. Nigeria has the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR), 2019.  It is estimated that by 2023, 65% of the world’s population will have modern privacy regulations protecting personal data, according to GartnerThe same research revealed that only 10% of the world’s population had the same protection in 2010. With these regulations in place, individuals can choose to opt-in or out, and decide how their information is used.

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