Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights lets you be you.
Article 8 is that crucial right that stops arbitrary interference with your personal life. It protects your privacy, your family life, your home and your correspondence – all those things which, at the end of the day, let you be you. It finds its roots in the post-World War II context when people had seen their families uprooted and torn apart, when people’s homes were searched on a whim, when privacy was eliminated by the security services, and when individuals were reduced to numbers.
Article 8 has embedded a right to privacy in English law. It has seen a host of landmark decisions, each giving greater thrust to our right to personal autonomy.
Thanks to Article 8, homosexuality is no longer criminalised, our employers can’t secretly spy on our emails, and the police can’t search us without reasonable suspicion. The police can no longer hold on to people’s DNA forever, the Government must protect us from environmental pollution and transsexuals are legally recognised as people.
And crucially, in an era of increasing Government mass surveillance enhanced by technological developments and companies’ powers to hold on to our personal information, it is Article 8 that will step in to reset the balance. It is Article 8 that recognises the dangers of the Orwellian surveillance state that stifles freedom of speech and expression and, ultimately, democracy itself. It is Article 8 that will step in to protect our personal autonomy and allow the full range of discussion and development that society needs to thrive.
Article 8 has some challenges ahead, but today it is more important than ever that our right to enjoy our personal sphere, including our private life, family, home and correspondence, is protected and respected.