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United Nations Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is an intergovernmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening , promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them.


Individual rights to privacy in the digital age

Letter from the Chairs

Dear Delegates, we would like to welcome you to MUN 2019 Human Rights Council!

It will be our utmost pleasure to be serving as your Chairs during this Conference, and by having controversial topics as a medium, it is our hope to see in this Committee a lot of engagement and a high level of debate.

We hope that this Study Guide will be helpful for your preparation for our upcoming simulation of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). While it serves as a sound basis for your research, we strongly encourage you to go beyond it in preparing your country's position as researching and knowing your country’s particularities (policy preferences, voting behaviour etc.) will be essential for your participation.

Read your Study Guide and indulge yourselves in individual research. Go through the material provided in this guide and also do research on other websites and mass media. However, keep in mind that you should conduct your research based on official data provided by formal websites (i.e. the UN website, Reuters etc.)

Know the policy of the country you are representing. You should always bear in mind that during the conference you will be representing a specific country and its policies and not your personal point of view on the issue debated. You should know not only your country’s view on the topic, but also some general information regarding alliances, geopolitical state, natural resources etc.

We look forward to seeing you!

Warm Regards,

Priyanka Pai

Introduction to the UNHRC

The HRC is an inter-governmental body that functions within the United Nations system which has long strived to solve the problems related to the violations of human rights. The Council superseded the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on March 15, 2006, with the adoption of resolution 60/251 by the General Assembly.

The HRC has 47 Member States which are elected by the General Assembly, and these Member States that are holding seats in the council are responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them. The council also plays a great role in the fight against all forms of discrimination.

One of the major components of the HRC is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). It is a unique process in which all human rights records of all 193 UN Member States are reviewed in a periodic manner. It consolidates the idea of equal treatment for every country and provides the countries the opportunity to declare what measures they have taken to improve the human rights in their countries. The reviews are conducted by 47 members of the UPR Working Group who are the members of the HRC.

The HRC’s work is intended to be inclusive of every human rights issue and open to engagement and review, even though the polarization and self-repetition among members have been an obstacle, criticized by many, which has led to the missed opportunities to have genuine debates.

Provided with a comprehensive mandate, the HRC “shall be responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind in a fair and equal manner”. Besides that, it “should address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, and make recommendations thereon” (UN GA 2006, art. 3). This means that the work of the UN is largely of advisory nature. Its resolutions could be called firm suggestions to the UN Member States since it is ultimately up to the countries’ governments to adopt legislation in line with said recommendations.

Right to Privacy in the digital age


Technological development is a gradual process of change brought by the introduction of new technology. Although the term “technological development” can be rather broad, also including medical and scientific advances, in this topic we will be focusing on protecting an individual’s right to privacy given the numerous technological developments in the field of information technology.

The revelations of the Snowden files, Cambridge Analytica scandal, the recent 5 billion USD fine imposed on Facebook by the US Government and the realisation that governments were using information technology for surveillance of their citizens has re-sparked the debate of security and privacy as opposing rights, leading to world-wide petitions for harder restrictions, legislation and more transparency and control.

Today, government use of technology and the lack of transparency in said use is one of the most talked about issues worldwide, with more and more information coming in every day revealing new details about surveillance activities. Relations between world leaders, national security, and international peace, are some of the elements that have been threatened by the disclosure of technology and surveillance-related programs. The revelations of the above mentioned scandals have caused great chaos in the international sphere: some world leaders and politicians saw their relations strained because of said discoveries. The Heads of these governments involved quickly came forward to offer explanations, often naming ‘national security’ and ‘prevention’ policies as the reason for these programs.

Statement of the Problem

We live in a world, where technology evolves faster than the time humans require to adjust with the changes. “Surveillance,” is a very debatable topic and while it has numerous advantages, it also has an equal number of disadvantages. The question of ethics is often raised with the use of technology. This is because while information systems offer new opportunities and advantages to businesses and scientific developments, they also introduce issues that can be a threat to the privacy and security of our society. The responsible global citizen is increasingly alarmed by the growing number of cases related to cybercrime and its repercussions on human rights infringements and national security.

In Europe, the recent EU Legislation GDPR hopes to tackle some of the violations of an individual’s right to privacy by both private multinational companies as well as State Governments. New surveillance laws are not only a tendency in Europe and the United States, but all over the world.

Right to Privacy

The right to privacy is a fundamental human right and can be categorised as a first generation human right. It is recognized in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in many other international and regional treaties. Privacy underpins human dignity and other key values such as freedom of association and freedom of speech. It has become one of the most important human rights issues of the modern age. The development of technology has changed our understanding of privacy and shifted the boundary between private and public, which has resulted in confusion related to the very meaning of privacy and made us question to what extent we should protect it anyway. Security issues continuously undermine the protection of privacy by imposing the need for more surveillance and control. Instead of being considered as a natural right, the right to privacy is constantly being contested.

In many of the countries where privacy is not explicitly recognized in the Constitution, such as the United States, Ireland and India, the courts have found that right in other provisions. In many countries, international agreements that recognize privacy rights such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the European Convention on Human Rights have been adopted into law. The UN General Assembly adopted resolution 68/167 in December 2013 on “the right to privacy in the digital age”, reaffirming the existence of this right and calling upon all states to respect the right and take measures to put an end to violations.

Current Situation

Advances in technological developments have drastically altered the rights of each individual to privacy. By amplifying the voices of human rights defenders and promoting democratic participation, technological developments have allowed for drastic improvements in political participation in parts of the world where governments use repression and violence to stop political participation.

However, with technological improvements, governments and private individuals have been able to use mass surveillance technologies to find out information which would typically infringe the right to privacy present in Article 12 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights which states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence”.

This situation is likely to continue for a long time, as communication technologies continue develop on a drastic scale, governments will also be allowed to survey the actions of their citizens with increasing frequency and accuracy. This has made the need for legislation which limits or provides remedies to victims of internet espionage.

While the Human Rights Council has discussed surveillance and other internet issues on a regular basis, numerous countries have publically stated their support for a free and open internet in the council. However, these same countries have passed draconian laws which have allowed them to survey their citizens on a massive scale. This has meant that while a public position on human rights and technological development is easily available, this public position is contrary to the domestic legislative actions of the country.

National security and international peace and security depend on governments’ willingness to bring their technological counterterrorism capacities under the rule of law, and to reconcile their responsibility to fight terror with their human rights obligations. A paradigm shift in the global approach to counterterrorism in this interconnected digital context will be needed, so as to protect freedom and human rights.

Role of the Media

Another important aspect in the context of national security leaks is the role of the press in upholding individual rights and civil liberties. Individual journalists entangled in controversial leak stories have always defended their public duty to hold governments accountable for any violation of fundamental human rights and democratic processes and have striven in order to gain access to public records, meetings and court rooms and disclose the acquired information.

There are many cases, however, where journalists have been accused of exploiting the treasure trove of information secured through their cooperation with whistle-blowers or otherwise for their own personal benefit rather than the common good. In the Snowden case, there have been many speculations regarding lucrative business deals with publishers and movie producers signed by some of the journalists Edward Snowden has partnered with.

Questions a Resolution Should Answer

  • What practical measures can member states have to ensure that the private rights of their citizens are protected whilst considering growing security concerns?
  • How can individuals ensure that their rights to privacy are protected against large scale government programs?
  • Is it possible for the UN to protect the right to privacy of individuals without encroaching upon national sovereignty?
  • How can the internet be kept free and open whilst considering individual privacy concerns?
  • How can governments protect their civilians without encroaching their privacy online?
  • How can the UNHRC ensure that such fundamental rights are protected?
  • How can the international community contribute and help?
  • What policies should the international community adopt (if any)?
  • How to deal and what measures (if any) can be taken against the countries violating the principles?

Profile of Chairperson:

UNHRC: Priyanka Pai

Corporate lawyer by profession, Priyanka is a graduate of GLC, Mumbai and is one of the most experienced MUNner hailing from Mumbai and has chaired at MUNs across the country. Having done more than 50 MUNs, including prestigious institutions such as SRM university, GLC, and several other top schools in the country, her experience is set to bring great pace to the moderation of debate.