What is private life?
The right to privacy is difficult to define but has come to include a wide range of overlapping and interrelated rights protecting the individual’s freedom as long as his/her actions do not interfere with the rights and freedoms of others. The right to privacy is the right to individual autonomy that is violated when states interfere with, penalise or prohibit actions which essentially only concern the individual. The right to privacy encompasses the right to protection of a person’s intimacy, identity, name, gender, honour, dignity, appearance, feelings and sexual orientation and extends to the home, the family and correspondence. The right to privacy may be limited in the interests of others and under specific conditions, provided that the interference is not arbitrary or unlawful.
The Human Rights Committee has defined several components of Article 17 ICCPR, such as ‘family’, ‘home’ and ‘correspondence’, but has left the definition of privacy itself rather open, stating in Coeriel and Aurik v. The Netherlands (Communication No. 453/1991, Views of 31 October 1994) that ‘the notion of privacy refers to the sphere of a person’s life in which he or she can freely express his or her identity, be it by entering into relationships with others or alone.’ Similarly, the European Commission on Human Rights stated that
the right to respect for “private life” is the right to privacy, the right to live as far as one wishes, protected from publicity [?] however, the right to respect for private life does not end there. It comprises also, to a certain degree, the right to establish and develop relationships with other human beings especially in the emotional field, for the development and fulfilment of one’s own personality. (X. v. Iceland).
The European Court has established in Niemitz v. Germany (Application No. 13710/88, Judgement of 16 December 1992) that respect for private life encompasses a certain right to develop relationships with others:
The Court does not consider it possible or necessary to attempt an exhaustive definition of the notion of “private life”.
However, it would be too restrictive to limit the notion to an “inner circle” in which the individual may live his own personal life as he chooses and to exclude therefrom entirely the outside world not encompassed within that circle. Respect for private life must also comprise to a certain degree the right to establish and develop relationships with other human beings.
In this case, the Court also expanded the notion of private life significantly, finding that the protection of Article 8 ECHR extended in some instances to business premises:
There appears, furthermore, to be no reason of principle why this understanding of the notion of “private life” should be taken to exclude activities of a professional or business nature since it is, after all, in the course of their working lives that the majority of people have a significant, if not the greatest, opportunity of developing relationships with the outside world. This view is supported by the fact that [?] it is not always possible to distinguish clearly which of an individual’s activities form part of his professional or business life and which do not. Thus, especially in the case of a person exercising a liberal profession, his work in that context may form part and parcel of his life to such a degree that it becomes impossible to know in what capacity he is acting at a given moment of time.
To deny the protection of Article 8 (art. 8) on the ground that the measure complained of related only to professional activities - as the Government suggested should be done in the present case - could moreover lead to an inequality of treatment, in that such protection would remain available to a person whose professional and non-professional activities were so intermingled that there was no means of distinguishing between them. In fact, the Court has not heretofore drawn such distinctions: it concluded that there had been an interference with private life even where telephone tapping covered both business and private calls [?] and, where a search was directed solely against business activities, it did not rely on that fact as a ground for excluding the applicability of Article 8 (art. 8) under the head of “private life” [?].