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    Scope and the Right to Privacy

    Module 4: Privacy and Security Online

    In the current data-driven era, the right to privacy has gained increasing recognition as a fundamental right, both in itself and as an enabler of other rights. This includes enabling the right to freedom of expression, for instance by allowing individuals to share views anonymously in circumstances where they may fear being censured for those views, by allowing whistle-blowers to make protected disclosures, and by enabling members of the media and activists to communicate in a secure manner beyond the reach of unlawful government interception.

    The key provision under international law regarding the right to privacy is contained in article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Importantly, sub-article (1) provides that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his (or her) privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his (or her) honour and reputation. Sub-article (2) goes on to provide that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

    In the African context, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) does not contain an express provision on the right to privacy. However, it has been argued that the right can – and should – be read into the African Charter through to the right to respect for life and integrity of the person, the right to dignity, and the right to liberty and security of the person.(1) This argument is based on the approach taken by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) in Social and Economic Rights Action Centre and Another v Nigeria and the comparative jurisprudence from the Supreme Court of India in Justice KS Puttaswamy (Retd) and Another v Union of India and Others.(2)

    It bears mention that other African regional instruments do recognise the right to privacy. For example, article 10 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child provides that:

    “No child shall be subject to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family home or correspondence, or to the attacks upon his honour or reputation, provided that parents or legal guardians shall have the right to exercise reasonable supervision over the conduct of their children. The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

    Additionally, the African Union (AU) Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (AU Data Protection Convention) – commonly referred to as the Malabo Convention – recognises in its preamble the commitment of the AU to build the information society and to protect “the privacy of its citizens in their daily or professional lives, while guaranteeing the free flow of information”. However, the Data Protection Convention is not yet in force, as it has received the requisite number of ratifications.

    At the domestic level, more than 50 African constitutions, inclusive of amendments and recent reviews, include reference to the right to privacy.(3)

    Footnotes

    1. Singh and Power, ‘The privacy awakening: The urgent need to harmonise the right to privacy in Africa’ African Human Rights Yearbook 3 (2019) 202 at p 202, http://www.pulp.up.ac.za/images/pulp/books/journals/AHRY_2019/Power%202019.pdf. Back
    2. Id. Back
    3. d.  The following 52 African constitutions include reference to the right to privacy: articles 46-7 of the Constitution of Algeria (1989); articles 32-4 of the Constitution of Angola (2010); articles 20-1 of the Constitution of Benin (1990); articles 3 and 9 of the Constitution of Botswana (1966); article 6 of the Constitution of Burkina Faso (1991); article 43 of the Constitution of Burundi (2005); Preamble to the Constitution of Cameroon (1972); articles 38, 41 and 42 of the Constitution of Cape Verde (1980); articles 16 and 19 of the Constitution of the Central African Republic (2016); Preamble to the Constitution of the Comoros (2001); articles 29 and 31 of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2005); articles 20 and 26 of the Constitution of the Republic of the Congo (2015); article 8 of the Constitution of Côte d’Ivoire; articles 12-3 of the Constitution of Djibouti (2010); articles 57-8 of the Constitution of Egypt (2014); article 13 of the Constitution of Equatorial Guinea (1991); article 18 of the Constitution of Eritrea (1997); article 26 of the Constitution of Ethiopia (1994); article(1)(5)-(6) of the Constitution of Gabon (1991); article 23 of the Constitution of The Gambia (1996); article 18 of the Constitution of Ghana (1992); article 12 of the Constitution of Guinea (2010); articles 44 and 48 of the Constitution of Guinea-Bissau (1984); article 31 of the Constitution of Kenya (2010); article 4(f)-(g) of the Constitution of Lesotho (1993); article 16 of the Constitution of Liberia (1986); articles 11-3 of the Constitution of Libya (2011); article 13 of the Constitution of Madagascar (2010); article 21 of the Constitution of Malawi (1994); article 6 of the Constitution of Mali (1992); article 13 of the Constitution of Mauritania (1991); articles 3(c) and 9 of the Constitution of Mauritius (1968); article 24 of the Constitution of Morocco (2011); article 41 of the Constitution of Mozambique (2004); article 13 of the Constitution of Namibia (1990); articles 27 and 29 of the Constitution of Niger (2017); article 37 of the Constitution of Nigeria (1999); article 2 of the Constitution of Rwanda (2003); articles 24-25 of the Constitution of Sao Tome and Principe (1975); articles 13 and 16 of the Constitution of Senegal (2001); article 20 of the Constitution of the Seychelles (1993); article 15(c) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone (1991); article 19 of the Constitution of Somalia (2012); article 14 of the Constitution of South Africa (1996); article 22 of the Constitution of South Sudan (2011); article 14(1)(c) of the Constitution of Swaziland (2005); articles 16 and 18 of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania (1977); article 28 of the Constitution of Togo (1992); article 24 of the Constitution of Tunisia (2014); article 27(1) of the Constitution of Uganda (1995); articles 11(d) and 17 of the Constitution of Zambia (1991); and article 57 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe (2013). Back