The right to privacy and personal data protection: An introduction to these two distinct rights
By Lefteris Chelioudakis
The right to privacy of every person and the right to the protection of its personal data are two distinct rights, according to the European Union Law. Many people confuse the two rights. This article aspires to make clear the values each of them safeguards by using simple language.
The core of the right to privacy of a person is the protection of his/her residence, his/her communications or/and his/her relationships with others, as well as his/her personality, as this is conceived in total.
This right does not apply only behind closed doors. On the contrary, it may be implemented and protected also in public spaces.
The right to personal data protection, which concern a person, refers exclusively to the processing of these data.
Its objective is the provision of legal protection against improper processing of these data.
Having read the informal definitions of these two rights, we can proceed to tracking down and analyzing their differences. In particular, it is understood that the right to privacy safeguards the residence and the communications of a person and concerns many aspects of his/her life. It is the right of everyone to choose how he/she defines his/her own existence.
The protection of this right constitutes a necessary condition for us to enjoy a series of other rights, which concern our interests, our relations, our beliefs, etc.
On the contrary, the right to personal data protection concerns solely the processing of these data. This processing may have to do with the core of the right to privacy of the data subject or not, depending on the case.
Let us try to understand the differences between these two rights through an example. We will use the case illustrated in the Handbook of European Data Protection Law, which has been published by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union (FRA), the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) and the Council of Europe (in collaboration with the Secretary of the European Court of Human Rights). The Handbook is available for free in electronic version in the website of FRA.
If the payroll of the company in which you work has a list with the names of the employees of the company and their respective salaries, the recording of this information can not be considered as an interference with your right to privacy. If, in the same example, the payroll chose to disclose this information to a third party, this could easily amount to an interference with your right to privacy.
The violation of the right to privacy does not necessarily equate to a violation of the right to data protection and vice versa.
Although European Union law distinguishes between the right to privacy and the right to data protection, the law of the Council of Europe adopts a different approach.
Specifically, the law of the Council of Europe perceives personal data protection as a reflection of the right to privacy, when these personal data are somehow related to the personal life of a person.
The Greek Constitution distinguishes between the two rights; the right to personal data protection is recognized under Article 9A (Personal Data Protection), while the various manifestations of the right to privacy are recognized under Article 9 (Asylum of the residence), Article 19 (Confidentiality of mail, correspondence & communication) and Article 21 (Protection of family, marriage, motherhood and childhood, disabled persons’ rights).
Therefore, it can be understood that the Greek Constitution distinguishes between the two rights, while it notably provides for distinct independent administrative authorities, which safeguard the distinct legal rights.
In particular, the Personal Data Protection Authority safeguards personal data protection, while the Confidentiality of Telecommunications Authority safeguards the confidentiality of mail and free correspondence and communication.
In any case, what the reader should bear in mind is that both the right to personal data protection and the right to privacy constitute fundamental rights, enjoyed by everyone and protected against arbitrary actions of the State or third persons.