Privacy – call for comments on a new topic for The Guide

Date: 07th February 2014

Governments collect significant amounts of data about citizens, and an urgent debate is emerging about how to protect the human right to privacy while enhancing government openness. Privacy was one of the ‘thorny issues’raised at the Open Government Summit in 2013 

Protecting the privacy of individuals can mean tensions in implementing open data and right to information commitments – for example in determining to what extent personal data such as subsidies, taxes, registers and judicial documents should be published, and in ensuring that anonymised data stays anonymous. At the same time privacy should not be used as a blanket excuse to hinder transparency. 

Lack of privacy (such as anonymous internet access) can also hinder access to information, and has a chilling impact on freedom of expression.  The recent revelation of mass internet surveillance programmes by several industrialized nations in particular underscores the need for greater transparency and accountability about the ways that governments gather and use information about individuals. 

To support governments and civil society in considering how to address privacy issues in their national Open Government Action Plans, a new topic is being added to The Guide. It has been developed by Privacy International who have proposed as series of ‘initial’, ‘intermediate’, ‘advanced’ and ‘innovative’ commitments:

Initial steps

  • Publish educational material about the importance of protecting personal information
  • Publish all laws setting out the surveillance powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies

Intermediate steps

  • Enact data protection legislation
  • Repeal any requirements compelling the identification of phone or internet users

Advanced steps

  • Publish transparency reports about access to communications data and surveillance activities
  • Reform legislation relating to surveillance by state agencies to ensure it complies with the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance

Intermediate steps

  • Establish a public oversight body responsible for ensuring that all new technologies and techniques adopted by police and public security agencies comport with the right to privacy

More details of the recommendations for each step are in the attached document, where we invite you add comments to the text. In particular, we woud value your thoughts on the following:

  • Are the headline illustrative commitments realistic and stretching at each of the levels? If not, please suggest how they should be changed.
  • Are there any significant gaps in the illustrative commitments? Please suggest any additional commitments you feel should be included.
  • Are the recommendations clear and useful? Please suggest any alterations you feel should be made.
  • Are there particular country experiences that could be added? (these do not have to imply best practice or endorsement, but examples in practice) Please suggest any good examples you are aware of (with links to any resources).
  • Are there any particularly useful resources missing? If so, please point us towards them.

You can comment on the document itself, or as a comment to this blog post. You can also send any thoughts via Please add your comments by February 28th , to be incorporated in the next revision.