Thematic Cluster Police and Justice
The European Court of Human Rights and the Right to Privacy
SCHR Brochure on the Protection of Private Life against Surveillance
Digital technologies have been improving rapidly for years. More and more state governments are resorting to preventative surveillance measures in the name of security or the fight against terrorism. This affects the right to respect for private life as protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘the Convention’). The SCHR analyses the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the subject.
An increasing number of states are resorting to surveillance measures, often preventatively and in the name of security. Government authorities search oral and written communication on the internet, scan telephone conversations or even postal communications, access connection data, exchange information with foreign governments and monitor or search premises. Public spaces are also increasingly monitored by cameras, some of which have facial recognition capabilities. Surveillance also takes place in other contexts: for example, recipients of social welfare or insurance benefits are observed by detectives in the interest of combatting suspected insurance fraud.
Complaints against governmental measures and laws
More and more people in European countries are taking legal action against the laws that make such surveillance measures possible. Numerous cases have already been brought before the ECHR and judged. The SCHR brochure explains the ECHR case law on the protection of the private sphere against surveillance by means of seven case examples.
Surveillance is permissible, but within limits
The ECHR regularly finds that the contested laws grant states wide-ranging jurisdiction for surveillance. In various cases, the permitted surveillance interventions violated the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically Article 8 on the right to privacy. However, the ECHR also recognises that certain forms of surveillance are permissible if they are proportionate and effective. The ECHR establishes strict rules for the individual surveillance measures, which must be specified in the respective laws. For example, the measures should be reviewed by a court before they are applied, they may only be imposed for clear purposes defined in the law, they can only be employed for a limited time, and any collected data must be promptly deleted.