Can We Talk About the Right to Privacy in Prisons?

Is there a legitimate need for the right to privacy in prison communities even though the convicts in penitentiary institutions are deprived of freedom while they are serving a sentence? Does this deprivation of freedom mean total annihilation of intimacy and constant surveillance or is it still reasonable to expect the protection of basic human rights? In other words, is there the right to privacy in prisons?

The Right to Privacy and Quality of Life in Prisons

The Prison Life project focuses on the research on the quality of life in prisons. One of its goals is to raise awareness about the need to respect certain standards within the prison communities and to protect the basic human rights of prisoners. The right to privacy significantly affects the quality of life. It is related to respect for human dignity, maintaining hygiene and communication with loved ones. Even though penitentiary institutions can only provide for the partial protection of privacy, it is important to acknowledge that this right is legitimate and that it should be respected at least to some extent, as long as it does not jeopardise the safety and security of prisoners, prison staff and penitentiary institutions in general.

The Prisoner’s Right to Privacy in International and Domestic Legislation

The right to privacy is considered one of the elementary human rights that is regulated by international conventions such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In Europe, the key legislations include the European Convention on Human Rights and the General Data Protection Regulation. These two documents define and regulate the right to privacy in the context of private life and secrecy of correspondence, but also in the context of the protection of personal data on the internet.

The most important document that defines the rights of prisoners is the European Prison Rules. This legislation prescribes the recommended practices in prison communities and protects prisoners’ right to privacy. This international document stipulates that the limitations of the right to privacy of prisoners should be reduced to minimal and necessary intrusions. Furthermore, these limitations should be properly justified and they need to correspond to a legitimate goal. According to the European Prison Rules, prison accommodation units should satisfy the minimum conditions in order to protect human dignity. In this context, the notion of dignity is directly related to the idea of minimal necessary privacy protection in prison communities that includes access to sanitary facilities where prisoners can be left alone. Privacy in prisons also entails the confidentiality of communication with family members, legal advisors and other persons. Moreover, the EU’s Police Directive defines the concept of personal data and protects prisoners from different forms of abuse of these data.

As one of the EU candidate countries, the Republic of Serbia has ratified all the relevant international documents that regulate human rights, which means that it is obliged to respect these regulations. Serbia has also aligned its legislation with the EU legal framework and tailored the domestic laws to adhere to the basic principles of democracy and European values.

Privacy of Security?

In the context of the human rights of prisoners, the relationship between the right to privacy and the right to security is one of the most controversial issues. Enjoying the right to privacy is always limited and conditioned by security risks and security policies. However, security is limited too. The right to privacy should be violated only when it is really necessary and when there is a legitimate need for this.

Ivana Stepanović