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Politics, the Press and Your Privacy Rights

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

In the pitched battle between politicians and the press at the end of 2013 advocates of greater regulation drew heavily upon examples of individual privacy intrusion by certain newspapers.

However, the average individual following events may well have been forgiven for thinking that individual privacy concerns were pushed into the background by something that resembled more of a power struggle between two pillars of the state.

Despite the politics of this saga, the principles at stake were rightly debated because democracies must seek to balance respect for the privacy of individual citizens with freedom of the press to investigate matters, including those of private individuals where there is a public interest at stake.

At an individual level though, many people may have understandably been left unclear about what their privacy rights actually are.

Background to Privacy Laws in the UK

It may surprise many people that there is actually no constitutional or statutory right to privacy in English law.

This is in contrast to countries with written constitutions such as the US where, although the Constitution does not contain an express general right to privacy, provisions such as the 1st, 4th and 14th Amendments do form the basis of specific privacy rights.

Furthermore, privacy in itself has not generally been recognised as a free standing right at English common law. This does not mean that privacy rights have not existed at all in the UK though.

Historically claims could be made in relation to breaches of confidence, breaches of confidential information or breaches of data protection legislation for example, which protected certain forms of privacy.

Development of Privacy Through the Human Rights Act

Although British citizens have historically lacked dedicated privacy protection in English law, this began to change with the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998. The Act, which came into force in 2000, incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into English law. Since then the law on privacy has developed rapidly.

Article 8 of the Convention provides that individuals have a right to respect for private and family life. Although this only binds public bodies, due to the way in which the Human Rights Act works, this explicit right must be taken into account by English courts in the interpretation of the common law.

Though this mechanism, the existing doctrine of breach of confidence has gradually been extended through case law to offer much greater protection for individual privacy.


It is still the case that English law itself does not have an explicit right to privacy. However, a combination of European and English legislation combined with English case law does offer significant privacy protection for individuals.

Due to the piecemeal nature of the law, individuals who feel that their rights to privacy have been breached should seek legal advice to ascertain their legal position. For specialist advice contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.