The Right to Privacy in Tourism

Interview with Sebastian Schweda, lawyer specialised in data privacy law

Ute Dilg-Saßmannshausen

Privacy is a very personal issue. Some might feel their privacy violated when someone else peeks through the window. Others live a very open analogue and digital life. Privacy is also a legal matter. How is the right to privacy regulated? What are the challenges we face in the protection of human rights? And where does it concern tourism? Sebastian Schweda, lawyer and spokesperson of the Amnesty Expert Group on Human Rights in the Digital Age, provides information.

TW: What does the right to privacy of each of us mean in terms of legal implications?

Sebastian Schweda:We have a right to be left alone. The state must not know everything about us. It must not penetrate our private affairs. The right to privacy is a human right. It can be interpreted differently in different countries. In the United States there is the rule: “My home is my castle”. Therefore, the flat or house of each person is private. Everything that happens outside of it is public. In Europe, privacy is not restricted to your flat or your house. The Supreme Court in Germany has defined the right to informational self-determination as a fundamental right. People must therefore not be mere objects of state policy and action.

TW: How do the United Nations define the right to privacy?

Sebastian Schweda: Privacy comprises the private life, the home, the family and all personal correspondence. It is defined in article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights takes further steps to define the meaning of privacy and its protection. There are also regional agreements, such as the European Convention on Human Rights. Under these agreements, interference of the states with the privacy of their citizens, e.g. in case of national security issues, is regulated and restricted. Any intervention must be necessary and proportionate. This leads, of course, to political discussions, e.g. when it comes to the retention of data.

TW: Travellers are often confronted with various aspects of privacy – even if they don’t really notice them as such. Examples are photographs on Facebook, passenger lists of airlines, data bases of tourist enterprises. Where do you see problematic aspects regarding the right to privacy in tourism?

Sebastian Schweda: Actually, there are many points that I would like to add to the list: For example, no-fly-registers of people who are denied to board an aircraft. The data of air passengers are accumulated and retained, including even their food preferences. When entering a country, fingerprints may be taken or the iris may be scanned. There are data bases for visa information. We have security cameras at airports, railway stations and public places. In Germany there are toll bridges on the motorways. And your internet provider usually knows where you spend your holidays and maybe even what places you visit at your holiday location. However, tourists themselves violate the privacy of others, e.g. when they post pictures in social media showing people who have not agreed to have their picture taken.

TW: Different regions worldwide are very much affected by tourism. In Europe, it is cities like Barcelona, but also Berlin. In some districts of Berlin people have to lock their staircases in order not have tourists walk around there. How does tourism affect the right to privacy of the local population?

Sebastian Schweda: We are talking about the effects of globalisation here. Travelling has become very cheap. This has changed tourism, and it has changed the situation of the locals. The global village has become a reality not only online, but also offline. Surely this affects the right to privacy. Let’s keep talking about the Berlin staircase: Some tourist might find it so attractive that he takes a video of it, maybe even capturing someone who actually lives in the house and does not like to see strangers there. Afterwards the video goes viral. Offline becomes online. And the side effect: The video might have contributed to data profiles that make it easy to draw conclusions about the people concerned.

TW: Is there any possibility to defend oneself against this?

Sebastian Schweda:Not really. There are hardly any options to fight against this. Smartphones are everywhere. It is hard to control what people do with them. You may tell people when you don’t want your picture taken. As soon it is taken, there is hardly any chance to monitor what happens to it. It is expensive to take legal action, and it takes time. If the parties concerned have different nationalities it might not even be clear who is actually in charge in the different legal systems. It is very obvious that the development of the law is slower than the digital advancements. Global regulation for data technology that we can use regardless of national borders is yet to be developed.

TW: Are there legal limits for holidaymakers?

Sebastian Schweda: First of all, each one of us has to respect the laws of the country where we stay. This includes the laws concerning privacy. In Germany, for example, there is the right to control what happens to your image as an aspect of criminal law. If someone walks into a private staircase, they are trespassing. However, privacy issues are often not only legal issues, but result from a simple lack of respect. Finally, in many cases the only option is to appeal to tourists to respect the culture and the etiquette of their holiday destination.

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