Article 8: Private and family life

Nobody should be able to secretly watch what we’re doing without good reason – and we have the right to enjoy a family life in the way we choose.

Article 8 of the Human Rights Act protects our privacy, our family life, our home and our communications.

It’s been used by families who’ve been unlawfully spied on by councils, won crucial rights for LGBT+ and trans people and defended our fundamental freedoms in the face of increasingly authoritarian mass surveillance.

It means the State must not interfere with your right to privacy – though this can be limited in certain circumstances.

Your private life

The right to a private life protects your dignity and autonomy (your right to be independent and make your own decisions about your life).

That includes:

  • respect for your sexuality
  • the right to personal autonomy and physical and psychological integrity (this right means you must not to be physically or psychologically interfered with)
  • respect for your private and confidential information, including the storing and sharing of data about you
  • the right not to be subject to unlawful state surveillance
  • the right to control the spreading of information about your private life, including photographs taken covertly.

Your family life

There’s no set model of a family or family life. It includes any stable relationship – like those between romantic partners, parents and children, siblings or grandparents and grandchildren.

People often depend on this right when the State tries to separate family members – for example, by taking children into care or deporting somebody.

Respect for your home

You have a right not to have your home life interfered with, including by unlawful surveillance, unlawful entry and evictions which don’t follow a proper process.

Respect for your correspondence

You have the right to uninterrupted and uncensored communication with others – a right that’s particularly relevant when challenging phone tapping and the reading of your private communications.

Limitations

Article 8 can be limited in certain circumstances – but any limitation must balance the interests of an individual and of the community as a whole.

In particular, any limitation must be:

  • covered by law
  • necessary and proportionate
  • for one or more of the following purposes:
    • public safety or the country's economic wellbeing
    • prevention disorder or crime
    • protecting health or morals
    • protecting other people's rights and freedoms.
    • national security.

Balancing rights

The right to privacy must often be balanced against the right to free expression.

Public figures don’t necessarily enjoy the same privacy as other people do – sometimes public interest might justify publishing information about them that would otherwise interfere with the right to privacy.

10 NGOs v the United Kingdom

This case was brought by Liberty, Amnesty International, Privacy International and 11 other human rights and journalism groups – as well as two individuals – based in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

It was a five-year legal challenge to the UK’s eye-wateringly broad and intrusive secret spying powers, first revealed by Edward Snowden.

In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK’s bulk interception regime had violated our rights to privacy under Article 8 – and to free expression, protected by Article 10.

The court found that intercepting communications data – the records of who, what, when, where and how we communicate – was as serious a breach of privacy as intercepting the content.

Judges also ruled that the UK’s regime for authorising bulk interception was incapable of keeping the “interference” with our rights to what is “necessary in a democratic society”.

Jenny Paton’s story

In 2008, Poole Council received an anonymous tip-off that Jenny Paton's family were lying about living in a certain school catchment area.

In fact, they’d lived there for more than 10 years – but that didn’t stop their council subjecting them to James Bond-style undercover surveillance.

For three weeks officials sat outside Jenny’s home, making notes and taking photographs. They even followed Jenny and her partner Tim while they drove their children to school.

The family had no idea – until the surveillance was exposed at a meeting with the council.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal – the court that considers cases about state spying – found Poole Council had breached Article 8.

Jenny said: “I felt justified in my outrage. I felt that the action I’d taken had been worth it – not for me personally, as such, but it did lead to changes in legislation that I felt made the whole battle worthwhile.”

Find out more about Liberty's landmark challenge to the Investigatory Powers Act