The Press versus Privacy

LONDON – Privacy has become a big issue in contemporary jurisprudence. The “right to privacy” is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But Article 8 is balanced by Article 10, which guarantees “free expression of opinion.” So what right has priority when they conflict?

Under what circumstances, for example, is it right to curtail press freedom in order to protect the right to privacy, or vice versa? The same balance is being sought between the right of citizens to data privacy and government demands for access to personal information to fight crime, terrorism, and so on.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental democratic liberty. It is a necessary protection against abuses of power and cover-ups of wrongdoing by public officials. It was never more effectively displayed than in the Watergate investigation, which brought down Richard Nixon in 1974.

So it is no surprise that press freedom is the freedom that authoritarian governments are keenest to curtail. Indeed, provided they can sufficiently muzzle the media they can even allow (relatively) free elections, as in Putin’s Russia. With the press heavily shackled in large parts of the world, freedom of speech is still a worthy slogan.