Online Technology and Right to Privacy

Hiren Pandit

16 September, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Privacy is an important area of civil rights. It highlights human dignity and other values such as freedom of expression. It is essential for the development and maintenance of a free society. Privacy is the recognition of an individual’s right to be let alone and to have his/her personal space. Privacy is defined as the right that determines the non-intervention of secret surveillance and the protection of an individual’s information. The Constitution of Bangladesh in article 43 expressly declares that every citizen shall have the right to the privacy of his correspondence and other means of communication.

A creative interpretation of article 32 of the Constitution may also implicitly support the idea of the right to privacy in the fundamental right to life and liberty. The concept, ‘right to privacy’, is not totally of modern origin. Various countries developed specific provisions in their legal systems for the protection of privacy in the national level. We all care deeply about our privacy and our rights, even if we cannot always agree on the degrees of level, what it means, and how it works or what impact it makes.

So, privacy means various things. For some, it means freedom from interruption. For others, it means to be alone - away from other people. After all, for many people throughout the globe, privacy issues hit where it hurts most. According to the law, we are discussing now on various scopes that violate the right to privacy and at the same time, the right to information or freedom of expression.

In Bangladesh, like in many countries of the world, the Internet has fast become one of the key instruments for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. It combines within one medium the means to receive as well as express and disseminate information, ideas, and opinions, be it in the form of writing or multimedia. Freedom of expression and privacy are fundamental human rights guaranteed in our constitution. More than ever, technological advances, particularly the Internet, make it easier for people to publish and respond to the news, information, and opinions.

It is now a common view shared by many legal intellectuals around the world that the governments should cooperate to improve respect for international human rights principles and to fashion regulations that take into account the Internet’s global scope. There are few countries like Bangladesh which have adopted laws to control the Internet’s content. From the human rights perspective, any regulation of the Internet ought to balance between privacy and freedom of expression. One person’s right to know and be informed may violate another’s right to be left alone. Just as the freedom of press and expression is vital for the dissemination of information on matters of public interest, it is equally important to safeguard the private life of an individual to the extent that it is unrelated to public duties or matters of public interest.

Privacy has become one of the most important human rights of the modern age. It is recognised around the world in diverse regions and cultures. It is protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, and in many other international and regional human rights treaties. But this concept is relatively new in Bangladesh. In the recent past, the people of this subcontinent were so overwhelmed with struggling for their independence they might have overlooked this vital aspect of their rights.

In Bangladesh, the issue, ‘right to privacy’, was never considered seriously. But in the era of information technology, this right of people is seriously invaded. A citizen has a right to safeguard the privacy of his own self, his family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, childbearing, and education among other matters. None can violate this right in any form of media publication or otherwise.

Privacy Act, 1988 and the Data Protection Act, 1988 in the UK, seek to protect this right, whereas the laws of Bangladesh on the subject lag far behind. The data protection act is important as it safeguards the use of personal information protecting against the misuse or abuse of information. It states the basic rights, special exemptions, and legal interpretations. The human rights groups in Bangladesh have been working for the protection of citizens’ privacy, ensuring national security and existing institutional practices to uphold the human rights framework. Criminalisation of opinions expressed offline and online through social media or blogs, is not only a violation of freedom of expression but also the right to privacy. 

According to the Right to Information Act 2009, everyone has the right to get information about all the aspects of the state agencies and organs other than the issues that have concerns related to national security or public interest; but no one has the right to intervene in one’s personal information unless s/he willingly discloses them. The freedom of expression is the ‘Right to express oneself following his/her own choice and option’, “Everyone should have the freedom to opt whether or not to make personal information public.” No one, including public and private organizations and agencies, should have the right to the interception and/or surveillance of email, messaging, telephone involving recording conversations of messages.


The writer is a media development activist.