Right to respect for private and family life

What is meant by “private life”?

“Private life” is a very broad concept, which cannot be strictly defined. Private life, in the human rights context, is understood as all aspects of a person’s life and identity, both social and physical. Thus, private life includes an individual’s appearance, sexual orientation, interests, preferences, professional and private activities, relations with other people – family, friends and broader external circle, life choices, home and correspondence. Put simply, private life incorporates all aspects of a person’s lifestyle, or what a person considers a part of their personality. 

Are there any exceptions?

The right to private life is not absolute and thus can be subject to restrictions.

The European Convention on Human Rights provides three criteria, which need to be satisfied for the restriction to be lawful:

1. The restriction is provided by law: there is a provision in national law allowing such restriction

2. The restriction is necessary in a democratic society to: 

  • protect national security
  • protect public safety
  • protect the economic well-being of the country
  • prevent disorder or crime
  • protect health or morals
  • protect the rights and freedoms of others

3. The restriction is proportionate (not more than necessary to achieve the aim pursued)

These criteria have also been generally accepted and applied by other international human rights institutions and followed by many national decision-making bodies. 

Who protects this right?

The State is the main guarantor of human rights. Its obligations are twofold: negative (obligations “not to do” something) and positive (obligations “to do” something). 

The negative obligation is to refrain from arbitrary interference in the private matters of individuals. The positive obligation is to ensure respect for private life in the relations of individuals between themselves. 

International recognition of this right

This right was formulated after the end of the Second World War when the international community decided to set a common standard for protecting fundamental rights. 

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted for that purpose. Its Article 12 reads:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

This right was later incorporated in international and regional human rights conventions. Interestingly, the scope of this right is expanding over time. The world community could not have imagined that a large volume of personal information would eventually be stored virtually. The scope of the right widened with the development of modern technology and now also includes privacy on the Internet.

In context

Sources

Last updated 12/05/2024