Global Digital Privacy: An Analysis with special emphasis on Article 17 of ICCPR



Everyone is familiar with the digital world but the harm that unprotected internet causes is known to a very few and to safeguard this platform International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) has taken some vital steps.

Privacy on the internet? It is an oxymoron. Well, this statement will be more clear once we learn the faults of unprotected internet but before jumping straight onto the hindrances, what digital privacy is should be understood. Digital Privacy is the collective definition of seclusion over the internet world. It embraces three sub-related categories: Information privacy, Communication privacy, and individual privacy. Let us take an example like one person may or may not be comfortable in revealing his/her identity over the web. Digital Privacy then, is when the information obtainable online about a given person is within his or her comfort zone.


We are often told that our data is exposed and that we lack complete privacy. There are numerous threats to online privacy like more widespread tracking and government surveillance. “We create our own digital traits that hackers and companies alike capture and use for a variety of marketing and advertisement targeting.” The following quoted lines mean that our data is exposed through digital medians, such as social media, we are also more sensitised to privacy issues.


After all the disadvantages being mentioned, a very common question arises that why is digital privacy important? Well here is a brief answer for the same:


· It is very crucial to have a better understanding of how your personal data can be moulded and used against you.

· Even slight lapse can cause a great loss of your private information.

Thus, keeping your personal information is your right but moreover, it’s your responsibility. It is your prime duty of responsibility to use and manage the information correctly and cautiously.

Now that we have finished discussing its importance and hindrances, moves of the government officials to provide internet privacy to the common


ers shall be taken into consideration. UN General Assembly adopted a treaty called International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which came into force on 23 March 1976, following 53 other articles. In Article 17, digital privacy was given its importance. Article 17 stated that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his/her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his her honour or reputation.” The obligations imposed by this article require the state to ratify legislative and other measures to give effect to the prohibition on interferences and attacks as well as to the protection of this right.


Since the ICCPR came into force, many superior technologies have emerged and both government and private companies have employed outside their framework.


 The term “unlawful” means that no interference in the private area of any person shall take place except in cases envisaged by the law. Interference authorized by States can only take place based on the law during an emergency, which itself must comply with the provisions, aims, and objectives of the Covenant and shall not cross the boundary of the policy.


The expression “arbitrary interference” is also applicable to the protection of the right provided for in article 17. In the Committee’s view, the expression “arbitrary interference” can also extend to interference provided for under the law only. The introduction of the concept of arbitrariness is intended to guarantee that even interference provided for by law should be in accordance with the provisions, aims, and objectives of the Covenant and should be, in any event, reasonable in the particular circumstances.


Regarding the term ‘home’, this should be given a broad interpretation of understood including all the sectors of the society having a family. The term ‘home’ in English, ‘domicile’ in French, and ‘manzel’ in Arabic, is used in article 17 of the covenant to indicate where a person resides or carries out his/her work.


As all persons live in society, the protection of privacy is necessarily relative. However, the competent public authorities should only be able to call for such information relating to an individual’s private life the knowledge of which is essential in the interests of society as understood under the Covenant. Accordingly, the Committee recommends that States should indicate in their reports the laws and regulations that govern authorized interferences with private life, and revealing identities should be avoided.


States parties are under a duty themselves not to engage in any interference inconsistent with article 17 of the Covenant and to provide the legislative framework prohibiting such acts by natural or legal persons. In case any interference prohibiting article 17 is found immediate actions shall be taken.



How new technologies help promote and protect the Right to Privacy?


The Right to protect General Privacy by design and default should be a centre of producing new technologies. Like, The Cambridge Analytica scandal shows how damaging technologies can be to privacy when the design is focused merely on profit or usability.

Violations of article 17 threaten other rights in the Covenant so to be more accurate, the gathering and holding of personal information on computers, data banks, and other devices whether by public authorities or private individuals or bodies, must be regulated by law. Special measures shall be taken at any cost to guard the information of the individual against falling into the hands of the non-officials.

In order to have the most effective protection of the private life, every individual should have the right to ascertain in an intelligible form, whether, and if so, what personal data is stored in automatic data files, and for what purposes. Every individual should also be able to ascertain which public authorities or private individuals or bodies control or may control their files. If such files contain incorrect personal data or have been collected or concocted contrary to the provisions of the law, every individual should have the right to request rectification or elimination.


Amidst the enormous use of data these days, restrictions, and threats to private encryption service providers are rapidly promoting online anonymity by implementing encryption protocols and are also developing an encrypted communications app. Though this method seeks the security of private communications but just like every other thing it also faces some challenges. Intelligence agencies, in particular, are striving to force private organizations to either provide tools for encryption or open doors in specific circumstances or to hand over encryption keys. Not forgetting to mention that these important challenges including encryption and anonymity on data-driven technology, and digital privacy for vulnerable groups might be addresses through further elaboration and interpretation of existing legal obligations protecting the right to privacy as noted in Article 17 of ICCPR.


Article 17 provides honour and protection under the proper legislation and privacy is obtained by their legal system. Thus, everyone is protected under this article from personal attacks or interferences that may cause harm to the individuals in any way.


-Rahul Menon & Diya Chatterjee