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By Elvis Towolawi Esq

In recent history, if there is any strand of human rights that has come under great threat of extinction and extinguishment – it’s the right to privacy; the right to be left alone, especially when appraised in the light of technologically advance global society and the craze for national security. This piece attempts to look at the fast eroding right to privacy in a penetratingly technological world with the view of establishing the need for a balance if we are to continue in a world where human dignity supersedes.

Interestingly, human rights conventions and national constitutions almost universally call for the protection of the right to privacy (see: Article 12 UNDHR 1946; Article 17 ICCPR 1966; Article 14 of the United Nations Convention of Migrant Workers; Article 11 American Convention on Human Rights; Article 10 African Charters on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; and Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms etc). However, the challenge is, ensuring the compliance of governments with this duty, particularly with regard to new technologies and in countries where the rule of law is treated with scorn and disdain. (See: Privacy International).

Basically, the right to privacy presupposes a right be alone; that one should be free in terms of one’s private life, home, place of residence and communications. (See Article 12 UNDHR 1946). With the upsurge of information technologies, the right to privacy has been extended to cover the right to “self-decision, self-control of one’s own personal information”.

Privacy is an important right because it is a necessary condition for other rights such as freedom and personal dignity; as often quoted human rights are interdependent and inter-related. Now, respecting a person’s privacy is to acknowledge such a person’s right to freedom and to recognize that individual as an autonomous human being (See: J.J. Britz, Technology as a Threat to Privacy: Ethical Challenges to Information Profession/Web/

But this right is far from absolute as it can be abridged on security grounds, public health, public safety and the rights of others (see: Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria). However, the question is: to what extent is the Government allowed to curtail the right to privacy of its citizenry in order to achieve and maintain national safety and security and public health etc?

The United States of America towers above other states in derogation of its citizenry privacy for national interest, defence and public safety. The National Security Agency is the tool of such acts of curtailment. Being an intelligence agency, its purpose is to monitor the world’s communications through spy satellites, taps on cables and placing listening stations around the world. Now, the NSA can go to domestic companies such as Google, Yahoo, Face book and Microsoft etc who hold massive amounts of information on its citizenry and foreigners which may be of interest to them under any pretext and without a warrant. (See: Privacy International).

Seemingly, the world is staggering towards a classical Orwellian thought – Police State where our mails, phone calls and internet communication and locations are watched and intercepted without our consent and knowledge. Can we say that the world is always in a state of insecurity that individual right to privacy would be pawned to secure and safe-guard national interest? What becomes of the sovereignty of states when another nation plays Big Brother – watches and surveys it’s every moves and that of its citizenry?

No doubt, terrorism and violence has become jet – paced, borne on the wings of technology, and deserves certain stringent measures to curb its hold and volatility; but individual rights, which form the fulcrum of collective rights of states and human dignity should not be brushed aside whimsically at the slightest provocation.

The right to privacy is a shield of individual dignity; states should honour their treaty obligations and be wary of violating such right except and unless when such rights would become a cloak for prosecuting and perpetrating acts of inhumanity, terrorism and violence against individuals, states and humanity.

Elvis Towolawi Esq is an Intern with Lawyers Alert

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