The right to privacy is recognised in diverse regions and cultures but is particularly difficult to define. One author has described it as ‘the desire by each of us for physical space where we can be free of interruption, intrusion, embarrassment, or accountability and the attempt to control the time and manner of disclosures of personal information about ourselves.’ (R. Smith, Ben Franklin’s Web Site 6 (Sheridan Books 2000)). An examination of the jurisprudence related to the right to privacy and respect for the private sphere demonstrates that the right entails a broad array of state obligations ranging from abstaining from arbitrary interference with a person’s right to receive uncensored mail, to live without publicity, and to establish and develop relationships with other people, to positive obligations to ensure respect for privacy through appropriate legislation and the removal of any state-imposed impediments to the enjoyment of the right to privacy.
The jurisprudence discussed in this section addresses a range of aspects of the right to privacy. At present, the right to respect for private and family life has evolved to deal with, inter alia, protection of - and the right to one’s name, access to information about oneself, respect for correspondence, sexual activities, search and video surveillance, rights of transsexuals and protection of the home and workplace. Thus, privacy can be understood to comprise four spheres: bodily privacy, information privacy, privacy of communication and territorial privacy. The first aspect requires the state to refrain from arbitrary or unlawful searches – for instance, cavity searches – and other invasive actions such as DNA or drug testing. The second, information privacy, requires the state to ensure effective data protection as regards private information such as medical or governmental records. The third aspect calls for non-interference with correspondence and other communication, and the fourth sphere requires the state to respect the home and in some instances public space as regards, for example, surveillance.
With constant technological developments and changes in society, new concerns have arisen in relation to privacy. Issues regarding, for instance, anti-terrorism policies, resulting in the weakening of data protection, increased sharing of data between governments and increased profiling and identification of individuals, give rise to concern. Other difficult issues include data collection, systems of biometric identification, genetic privacy, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), privacy in the workplace, DNA testing, the Internet and ‘electronic privacy’ in general, and certainly new issues will continue to develop where the right to privacy and the protection of the private sphere come into play. With new challenges, states must place even greater emphasis on effective protection of the right to privacy and ensure that any interference with this right is warranted and lawful.