NEWS5 August 2011

UK Bill of Rights consultation to look at privacy protection


UK— The government has launched a consultation to ask the public whether the UK needs a bill of rights, which could include new rights of privacy.

Sir Leigh Kewis is chairing the commission that has been set up to look at the question, and a discussion paper has been published looking at whether the UK needs a bill of rights, and what it should contain.

A bill of rights could mean much more robust protection for privacy in the UK, which could affect how researchers recruit respondents and gather data – particularly online. But it could also strengthen other rights, such as freedom of expression, that might stand in the way of attempts to ensure privacy.

Because the UK has no written constitution, there are no ‘fundamental’ rights that enjoy special protection, although the country is a signatory to international laws including the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Human Rights Act, through which the European Convention was brought into effect in the UK, introduced the right to have one’s privacy respected, which has influenced court rulings in areas such as media intrusion on celebrities’ lives.

But the use of social media monitoring and online behavioural tracking has raised new concerns about privacy in recent years. MPs from all three main parties have recently put their names to a call for an ‘internet bill of rights’, in response to fears about companies that track online behaviour for advertising purposes.

The commission says it is looking into creating a bill of rights “that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law, and protects and extends our liberties”.

The Market Research Society (MRS) says it will be responding to the consultation.