Personal invitations have started being sent out to a number of stakeholders who were sent a “save the date” e-mail several months ago but just in case, for some reason or another you have not received one and you would like to participate in a workshop conference about Privacy, personality and flows of information then please respond to this informal open invitation.

This workshop conference will be co-organised in New York (USA) on 19-20 July 2016 by the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur for Privacy (SRP) together with Human Rights Watch, Global Freedom of Expression Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law Center, The Department of Information Policy & Governance at the University of Malta and STeP, the Security, Technology & e-Privacy Research Group at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

This workshop is the first public event co-organised by the SRP aimed at achieving a better understanding of privacy. The latter is the first set of five Thematic Action Streams identified as priorities by the SRP mandate. This Action Stream will complement the activities and investigations which will be carried out in the four other Action Streams announced recently and which will be the subject of separate public announcements in the next few weeks.


Privacy is a fundamental human right which is a stand-alone right capable of being recognised and enforced in its own right, even independently of other rights. That makes it an incredibly important right which permeates many systems of law all around the world. Some regions like Europe have developed this into a multi-tiered system of rights. I would next like to suggest that privacy is even more important than we may have thought so far and this is because, perhaps above all else, it acts as an enabler to a number of other important rights and especially the right to free, unhindered development of personality.

This idea of Privacy as an enabling right is turning out to be a very useful one as more and more people around the world try to understand why privacy is important to them and why privacy matters when it comes to considering how best to approach new technologies like smart phones and the Internet or new threats like ubiquitous surveillance. This is because if one agrees with the idea, for example, that privacy exists to enable people to develop themselves and their personalities freely in any direction that they may choose, then it becomes easier to realise what may be at stake if privacy is breached, diminished or lost.

One of the key ideas for the July 2016 workshop conference we are organising in New York (USA), is to explore ways how to expand further and eventually develop more detailed and specific safeguards for privacy also – but not exclusively – by seeking to explore the notion “Why Privacy?” To what extent Is Privacy a means to an end or an end in itself?

I have suggested, in past and recent writings, that in many cases (possibly not all) privacy is best understood as an enabling right rather than an end in itself, though at law in many countries it may and does function as a stand-alone right. What I mean by this is that like a number of other information-related rights, including the rights of freedom of expression (the freedom to receive and communicate information) and the freedom to access publicly-held information, privacy exists as a right to enable an individual to fulfil the over-arching fundamental right to the free unhindered development of one’s personality. The latter right is recognised explicitly not only in German constitutional law but also in the law of several other countries, not only Nordic countries or European states such as Romania and Hungary but also some South American states such as Brazil and Colombia.

I have long held that it is unfortunate that there has never been a proper, structured, in-depth international debate about “Persönlichkeitsrecht” or similar approaches to the right to personality. There are several reasons why this lack of international debate and discussion is truly a pity, especially since I sincerely believe that it would help us arrive at a better understanding of why and how we could better protect privacy in the digital age. This is why, as one of the priority activities of my mandate as UN Special Rapporteur on Privacy I have decided to organise a series of international workshop conferences which aim at exploring this dimension of the subject, in-depth and across borders. The New York event is intended to be the first of such events in the calendar of the SRP Action Stream on a better understanding of privacy after which it is planned to be followed up by complementary events in Africa, Asia and South America. One of the reasons for this approach is that discussions on privacy very often expand to include issues like identity and trust. The evidence base provided by research suggests that people in some countries have strong biases to retain privacy. Europe is not homogenous: it would appear that citizens of some European states trust their governments less than others when it comes to matters of privacy. On the other hand, in Latin America, some research suggests, concerns about privacy were much lower. Meanwhile, citizens surveyed in some countries trust their governments more than business to do the right thing when it comes to protecting their privacy. Citizens in other countries may take an opposite view and trust business over government. So while the right to privacy may be universal it does not necessarily lend itself easily to one-size-fits-all solutions and safeguards. Hence the need to understand better the local, national, regional and international contexts in which privacy operates in order to work towards a wider international consensus about which new safeguards and legal instruments could complement and reinforce the fundamental right to privacy.

A draft agenda for the conference is attached. You will see that it is intended to be a workshop conference where interactivity is maximised. It is also intended to be part of a series of events designed to permit civil society and multiple other stakeholders to interact with the SRP mandate in a structured manner. Registration for the event will be free and it is open to all stakeholders who are interested but since space is limited places will be reserved on a first-come, first served basis so please hurry up and register by writing to quickly before the conference room fills up.

Download latest version of Workshop Conference Programme 19-20 July (as pdf)