15 Jul The Right to Privacy
The right to privacy is enshrined in section in section 57 of our constitution. This has been a topical right in Zimbabwe and this article will examine how far our constitution has gone to protect this important personal right. The right to privacy may be defined as the right of people to lead their lives in a manner that is reasonably secluded from public (and State) scrutiny.
Sections 57(a) and 57(b) state that every person not to have their home, premises or property entered into or searched without permission. That is why under normal circumstances a search warrant or similar court order is necessary when police officers or other authorities wish to search a suspect’s premises. It should be noted that before a search warrant is issued there usually has to be grounds for reasonable suspicion that there might be proof of illegal activities on the property or premises to be searched. In other words, before the police officers come in and “raid” a person’s home or premises of business, there must be a valid reason that is recognised and allowed by the courts.
What does this provision mean for electricity meter and water meter readers, do they also need to carry a warrant to enter your premises and carry out their meter reading duties? No, they do not need a warrant but they still do need the consent of the occupier of the property or premises. This scenario shows that this provision is meant to protect the citizen from arbitrary search and seizure that may potentially be carried out by the State. The right to privacy mainly protects the citizen from a possible abuse of state power and authority. In this vein, section 57(c) says that the right to privacy also includes the right not have one’s property seized. This is because property such as laptops for example, possibly contains emails, documents or even browsing history that a person may wish to keep private and away from the public’s prying eyes. Hence, section 57(c) is also an emphasis on property rights that are protected by section 71 of the constitution.
According to section 57(d), the right to privacy also includes the right to have private communications to be kept private. Communications refers to the exchange of information between one person and another, and it can take several forms for example, face to face discussions, letters, phone calls, e-mails and so on. Such communication is private if the information being exchanged by the parties reaches only the intended party and no one else; interception of such communications then becomes a violation of a person’s right to privacy.
However, there are situations where it is necessary for state forces to “listen in” on some conversations or communications if there is reasonable suspicion that public safety or some public good is at risk as a result of the information contained in that particular communication. Any state interception of information, though, must be fair, reasonable, necessary, and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality, and freedom.
The state is not the only entity that can violate a person’s right to privacy by illegally intercepting a person’s communications, anyone can do it, and for example, eavesdropping on a confidential conversation between two other people rightly qualifies as a violation of a person’s right to privacy. However, with the advent of the internet, many corporations such as Google, Facebook, Netflix, e-mail service providers and other internet-based service providers have access to their client’s confidential and private information. This private information includes passwords, banking details, health details, private e-mails, and so much more information that is similar.
Lastly, a person’s right to privacy includes the right not to have their health condition disclosed without the person’s informed consent; this is according to section 57(e). It is therefore a violation of a person’s right to privacy to disclose that person’s HIV status without their consent for example. This prohibition is meant to protect a person’s dignity. Gossip about a person’s health that might look innocent therefore sometimes amounts to a violation of the gossip victim’s right to privacy.
Kuda Hove is a Legal Officer at Veritas, he writes in his personal capacity. Email: email@example.com