7. Right to respect for private and family life


This module offers an understanding of right to privacy and family life, including respect for privacy in one's home.
Students will discuss the right to respect for personal correspondence and issues related to this right and daily life.


Short description of the session

The goal of this session is to give pupils knowledge about the key concepts of the right to respect for private and family life. The notions privacy, private life, family life, personal correspondence and their importance for one’s moral and physical integrity are described. The session consists of the introductory exercise “Sociologists”, lecture on the right to respect for private and family life and two follow-up activities.  Follow up activity I is an analysis of the cases from the European Court of Human Rights to be done in groups. Follow up activity II is a project work, aimed to analyze the connections between right to respect for private and family life and other human rights.

(URL: https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=home&c=)


Learning goals

  • Make the pupils reflect on the notion of privacy and its meaning for people in order to feel that their inner world is respected
  • Make the pupils learn about the right to respect for private and family life and about the obligations public authorities have in order to guarantee this right to people
  • Make the pupils analyse cases from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) regarding the right to respect for private and family life, and identify the arguments the Court is using in order to decide about a case.


  • Time: 1-3 hours (depending on how many cases from the ECHR the teacher wants to include for analysis in groups)
  • Requirements: a room with enough space for pupils to go around, work in groups; pieces of paper for exercise “Sociologists”
  • Preparation (for the teacher): lecture on the right to respect for private and family life


Exercise:  Sociologists[1]

What do we mean by privacy? Are there any dilemmas, connected to privacy in our everyday life? The pupils are interviewing each other in this exercise.

  1. The teacher needs to prepare questions- situations involving privacy dilemmas and write down each question separately, on a small piece of paper.
  2. Pupils in the class get pieces of paper with questions on it. The task is to interview each other: ask the question and put down a short answer. It is not necessary to note the name of interviewees. It is desirable that each student asks at least half of the class. (15 minutes)
  3. The answers pupils get will be the starting point of the discussion about They have to be analysed in order to see whether some of the answers are similar or repeat each other. It is important to have a common discussion in the class. The pupils will get then a good possibility to speak up their mind on the questions on privacy. Usually the questions are engaging, as young people would recognize themselves and their everyday dilemmas in them. When discussion is finished, the teacher can give a short lecture on the main aspects of the right to respect for private and family life.


For implementing this exercises, teachers might use the following questions ( NB: each question on a separate piece of paper):

1. Can you discuss absolutely everything with your friend?

  •     Yes, I can discuss absolutely everything with my friend
  •     No, there are things I cannot discuss even with my friend. Why? (optional)

2. You are curious about your friend and want to ask him more. He does not want to speak about the issue you are curious of and says that it is his own business and about his private life. What would you do?

  • I will keep asking him about the things I wonder about
  • I will not keep asking further since he does not want me to do so
  • Whether I keep asking my friend or not will depend on a situation. If so, what kind of situation it can be?

3. Do you think that is right that every person can have his own thoughts and dreams and other people do not have to know about it?

  • Yes, I think so
  • No, I think other people can know about other people’s thoughts and dreams. Why?

4. Can you talk about everything with your parents?

  • Yes, I can
  • There are things I cannot talk about, even with my parents. Why?

5. Will you be angry or offended in case your parents are looking up to your private things, like bags, mobile phones, messages, without asking you for permission?

  • Yes, I will
  • No, I will not. Why?

6.Your parents are asking you question, which have something to do with you and your everyday life (your school, friends, hobbies, etc). Do you always answer them?

  • Yes, I do always answer my parents
  • I answer only when I want to
  • I do not usually talk to my parents about things, which are important to me.

Lecture on the right to respect for private and family life  (for the teacher)

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”.

The right to respect for private and family life is also protected by the Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR):

“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. 2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Most constitutions in the world contain the right to privacy. The Bulgarian Constitution of 1991 recognizes people’s rights to privacy, secrecy of communications and access to information in the articles 32-34.

State and public authorities of any kind are the guarantors of the respect to people’s private life. They have also an obligation to protect one’s private and family life from interference and misuse. It does not matter whether a person is resident or non-resident; all people have an equal right to respect of their private and family life. The right is however not absolute. For example, a strong codified concern for national security could in some cases allow the state to interfere into the private life of citizens.In order to understand better, what the right to private and family life is, it is necessary to talk about the notion of privacy.



One might say that privacy is about the inner world of a person, both material and spiritual. Material in the sense of a private space and home; spiritual in the sense of soul, inner thoughts, dreams and  philosophy of life.

Privacy is closely connected to personal identity. Such personal characteristics, as name, image, body, sex are related to physical and moral integrity of people.  Personal image, for example, is a unique characteristic of one’s personality, distinguishing a person from the others. Therefore, protection of one’s image and legislation regulating publication or treatment of one’s image are of high priority in many countries today. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), developed by the European Union in 2016, is one of the recent examples of personal data protection in Europe.

It is important to discuss the routines and laws the states have today in order to regulate the storage and processing the personal data of people. On the one hand, states might collect data on one’s health, genetic illnesses, circumstances of birth or other private information. On the other hand, they are obliged to protect this data from misuse and guarantee the right to respect for privacy and private life. For example, newborn screening programmes can only be done when parents of a newborn are informed about the purposes of the screening and consented to it. State authorities would be obliged in this case to secure that the data hospitals or scientists get on a newborn is not misused by health care system, scientists or any other groups.

Privacy is also related to personal identity and development. The person is to decide himself how to look like, what books to read, which friends to have. It is about people’s autonomy and the right to decide about own life. State has nothing to say here. Still, no personal development is going on in a vacuum. Most people live in societies with different traditions, culture and social realities. The latter do make an impact on one’s personality and understanding of privacy. It is usual to point out four spheres of human life as private: private life, family life, home and correspondence.


Right to private life

Private life is the sphere, where we can develop our potentials, reveal our personalities without prying eyes. Most people do care about good and honest reputation, possibility to decide over own body and life. Most people appreciate the possibility to initiate relationship with other people either in the form of a family, a bunch of soulmates, friends or colleagues. State’s responsibility is not to interfere within the personal choices of people.

Right to respect for private life is about the freedom to choose the way of life, but can also be about the quality of life. In the HUDOC [1]database, we can find cases concerning different aspects of quality of life as for example, the cases concerning the wish of a person to spread own cremation ashes over own property; decisions about change of name or surname, including cases when a husband takes the surname of the wife; decisions about the choice of children’s names by their parents; procedures of getting identification papers after the change of sex and others.

Right to respect for private life is about the protection of personal autonomy and anonymity. Such interference into private life as taking pictures of people or their children without a prior permission; sharing images in media without permission; denying people access to their personal data (about health, ancestry, educational results); making personal data (on gender, civil status, place of birth) public; taking fingerprints without prior information of the purpose for such action, monitoring one’s digital communication (emails, social media), deporting or resettling people without their consent,  examining one’s body, hospitalizing a person without consent are examples of the actions demanding legitimacy and necessity in a democratic society or else they would violate the right to private life.

Right to respect for private life is also used in connection with protection of a more traditional way of life of national minorities or groups in some countries, as well with environmental issues influencing the quality of people’s lives, like access to clean drinking water supply close to one’s home.


Right to family life

Family life is primarily about people living together, whose relationship looks like a family. Family samples can be very different today. Relationship does not have to be officially registered. People cohabitating can also constitute a family. Same-sex couples living in a stable relationship fall within the notion of a private and family life in the same way as a heterosexual couples do.

Relationship between children and their parents, divorced and foster parents or single parent included; siblings and their grandparents; children in a family; uncles, aunts and their nephews and nieces is also defined as family relationship. Relationship can also include a financial dimension, like the right to decide over own property or to inherit. In case, there is a public institution or child care institution taking care of a child, it is possible to speak about the child’s right to private life.



Home is a physical space, where people spend quite a lot of time or have relation to for some particular period of time. Thus, summer houses, rented apartments, social housing, offices or working places where the boundaries between office and home are not that clear (like home offices), a company’s headquarter, non-traditional homes like travelling vans and cabins will also be defined as home, in the same way traditional houses and apartments do.

People do not have to own their homes in order to expect that their right to privacy and home is respected. Most of people do close the door of their homes in order to be alone, in privacy and with their families. There should be good legitimate reason for the state and public authorities in order to inspect one’s home. Police raids, destruction of one’s home or search through one’s home, without the presence of person(s) living there, would be highly problematic actions. These actions will always have to be thoroughly investigated on the matter of their lawfulness, proportionality and necessity.



Correspondence as a part of the right to respect for private and family life is about the confidentiality of personal communication. Letters with private and/ or professional content, packages, telephone conversations, messages and emails are the types of correspondence. The right to keep it secret and confidential is closely related to our freedom of thought and expression, as well as to our right to spread information without state’s interference or censorship.

Right to respect for private and family life protects not only correspondence with family members, but also with colleagues, friends or other people. In cases state authorities are exercising censorship, monitoring or seizure of somebody’s correspondence, they would have to justify these actions. States are also obliged to guarantee a free of censorship communication between people no matter whether state-owned or private entities are providing people the means of communication.

Some professional groups (like journalists and lawyers) have a special protection, since the quality of their work is very much dependent on the absence of censorship and control from the state.

People under deprivation of liberty, like detention, institutionalisation, or imprisonment, also require a special protection of their correspondence, as it can be decisive for their life and liberty. Being placed within an enclosed space, they would usually have little contact with their families and often be dependent on prison or police employees to enjoy their right to respect for private and family life.

[1] HUDOC is the database of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which allows to search for a case based on an article of the European Convention of Human Rights or a country. The detailed instruction how to do searching is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9V5v3wSqAY

Educating in human rights, Teacher’s book, Moscow 2000

For further reading:

Council of Europe human rights handbooks, Protecting the Right to respect for private and family life by Ivana Roagna (2012) URL: https://rm.coe.int/16806f1554

Guide on Article 8  of the European Convention  on Human Rights, 2019. URL: https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Guide_Art_8_ENG.pdf

Children’s online privacy and freedom of expression, UNESCO, 2018. URL: https://www.unicef.org/csr/files/UNICEF_Childrens_Online_Privacy_and_Freedom_of_Expression(1).pdf


Follow up activity I

Group work- analysis of the cases from European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)

As mentioned earlier, the right to respect for private life is a broad concept.  It is in constant development in the same way as societies develop. It is important to see which arguments both public authorities and ECHR are using when deciding about violation or non-violation of the Article 8 of the European Convention, which guarantees the right to respect for private and family life.

Four cases are chosen here for analysis. Each case concerns a particular aspect of the right to respect for private and family life. The first one is about personal identity and privacy, the second - about protection of private life and home, the third- about protection of family life and the last one- about confidentiality of correspondence. Analysis of cases will allow pupils understand the arguments the European Court of Human Rights is using when analysing the necessity of states’ interference into one’s private and family life in a democratic society; as well as lawfulness an interference. Detailed description and press-releases of the cases can be found in the ECHR’s database HUDOC. Usually the descriptions are quite long, so that it might be a good idea for the teacher to study the case, make a shorten version of it before giving it to the pupils for analysis.

The pupils have to answer three questions when analysing cases in groups:

  • Who are parties in this case?
  • What is the case about?
  • What are the arguments and final decision of the European Court of Human rights in this case?

Cases for analysis:

Case 1: Shimovolos v. Russia, 2011. URL: https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{"itemid":["001-105217"]}

Mr. Shimovolos complained that the registration of his name in the Surveillance Database had interfered with his private life because it had permitted the police to collect information about his trips. The interference had not been necessary in a democratic society. There had been no reason to register his name in the database as he was a law-abiding citizen and had never been suspected of any criminal or administrative offences. According to the applicant, the Surveillance Database contained information on more than 3,800 persons, the majority of whom, like the applicant himself, had been included in that database because of their public and human rights activities.

Case 2: Peev v. Bulgaria, 2007. URL: https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{"itemid":["001-81914"]}

Mr. Peev, sociologist by profession, has published a number of allegations against the Chief Prosecutor in several Bulgarian media. Allegations were about fearful working conditions at the Prosecutor’s Office, involving cases of physical and psychological violence.  The office of Mr. Peev had been sealed, lock changed, compact discs with personal material, notes, notebooks, diplomas, personal photographs, books and personal documents, including medical ones inspected.

Case 3: Norris v. Ireland, 1988. URL: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-57547

Mr. Norris, a lecturer and member of the Irish Parliament, was also an activist, campaigning for homosexual rights in Ireland since 1971. He was a founder of the Irish Gay Rights Movement. His complaints were against the laws in Ireland, which criminalised homosexuality.

Case 4: Campbell and Fell v. the United Kingdom, 1984 URL: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-57456

Mr. Campbell and Mr. Fell were both prisoners at the Albany Prison, complaining of the treatment, physical injuries and denial of communication with their lawyers and close relatives.

Follow-up activity II: Project work on the relation of the right to private and family life to other human rights

Right to respect for private and family life is not an absolute human right. It means that there can be situations where this right is related to, or is in conflict with other right(s). It is therefore interesting to find out more in what way the right to respect for private and family life relates to or is in conflict with other human rights. Students can do the project work by finding particular examples on the situations, real and imagined, where:

  • Right to respect for private and family life relates to or is in conflict with the right to life and prohibition of torture. (E.g. State authorities are not allowed to put a person into custody or arrest without a lawful prescription for such an action)
  • Right to respect for private and family relates to or is in conflict with freedom of expression. (E.g. Every person has the right to get information and spread it further without any censorship)
  • Right to respect for private and family relates to or is in conflict with freedom of press. (E.g. Conditions, in which journalists, bloggers and other mass media institutions are able to do their work without interference or censorship)
  • Right to respect for private and family relates to or is in conflict with the right to political participation. (E.g. What are the boundaries of privacy and private life? To what extent is the right to private life guaranteed to politicians and other public figures?)


How to use the museums

The pupils can work in groups or individually in order to identify museums or exhibitions, either in their hometown or online, in order to find out aspects related to the right to respect for private and family life. They can make a presentation in the class, write an article or do a broadcasting at the school’s radio, after having investigated on the following questions:

  • Find museums or exhibitions depicting traditional and non-traditional ways of living / ways of housing. Find out how ways of living or ways of housing are being presented to public? To what extent and is the right to respect for private and family life of people shown in an exhibition protected?
  • Find museums or exhibitions depicting any vulnerable groups in society, like people in prison, psychiatric patients, homeless people, drug addicts. Take an interview with a museum employee/ an author of an exhibition in order to find out how they understand and secure privacy of people / images/ personal items they have used in the exhibition.

[1] Educating in human rights, Teacher’s book, Moscow 2000


Author: Eugenia Koroltseva




[2] HUDOC is the database of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which allows to search for a case based on an article of the European Convention of Human Rights or a country. The detailed instruction how to do searching is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9V5v3wSqAY