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Privacy rights and the law


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Privacy has long been recognised as one of the important human rights and this is reflected in religion and history. There are, for example, references to privacy in the Qur'an, the Bible and Jewish law. Privacy was also protected in classical Greece and ancient China.

The protection of privacy is seen as a way of drawing the line to indicate how far society can intrude into a person's affairs. Privacy encompasses an individual's liberty to choose how they lead their lives, freedom from unwarranted state intervention and, increasingly, protection from invasion by the media.

An individual's privacy is highly valued. However, the law protecting a person's privacy is quite complex. The UK is party to various international human rights treaties which recognise the existence of a right to privacy, yet UK law does not contain a single enshrined right to privacy. No Act of Parliament creates such a right, and the common law only allows a limited recognition of privacy rights in specific situations.

This unit investigates how privacy is protected in the UK. We will examine the main protections for privacy in statute, common law and international law, and the effect of the Human Rights Act 1998. You will be encouraged to consider the interests that privacy protects and the conflict between the right to privacy and other important human rights, such as the right to freedom of expression.

This study unit is an adapted extract relevant to The Open University course W100 Rules, rights and justice: an introduction to law, which is no longer taught by the University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this subject area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .