Position paper: Personal data protection draft law by decree from a human rights–based perspective

7amleh  /  October 3, 2023

This paper aims to review the Personal Data Protection Decree draft, presenting a clear position on it—a stance deeply rooted in the bedrock principles of the 2003 Amended Basic Law and the relevant international conventions and standards. Through the prism of this analysis, 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media aspects tied to transparency, the imperative for the cabinet to unveil this draft for public discussion, and the significance of these elements and stepping stones. The narrative then veers into exploring the essential, overarching principles of privacy, advocating for their inclusion within the draft. It also delves into the commitment to embedding the rights of data subjects, weighing the accomplishments and pitfalls on this front. The paper wraps up with a compendium of recommendations, a path forward to refining the legal landscape surrounding the right to privacy in Palestine, aiming for a more constitutional and human rights–centered approach.

In the intricate web of the digital world, privacy and protection are cardinal digital rights. These rights are interwoven with every individual’s footprint in the digital space,  including the use of various platforms and applications of social media. While several international conventions touch on the right to privacy, the Universal Declaration of  Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) explicitly and fundamentally enshrine its protection in Articles 12 and 17 thereof, respectively. As the right to privacy evolves and permeates more profoundly into the myriad layers of individual and collective existence, intersecting with digital spaces, identity, and life beyond the screens, this right is recognized as a cornerstone for individuals to enjoy and exercise their sundry rights and freedoms both online and offline. In 2015, this imperative prompted the United Nations Human Rights Council to initiate the first mandate on privacy: The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. Around the world, countries are developing laws to guide the actualization of this right both offline and online. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 137 out of 194  countries have legislated applicable privacy and data protection laws, while Palestine is ensconced within the minimal 9 percent that have draft laws on this matter, none of which have seen the light of day.

Following Palestine’s accession to seven fundamental international human rights conventions in 2014—especially the unconditional embrace of ICCPR, the onus is squarely on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to undertake all conceivable steps, including the enactment of legislations, to comply and honor all its commitment and avowals vis-à-vis rights and freedoms under this covenant, with privacy being a key component. Despite  these binding commitments and the provisions of Article 1 (10) of 2003 Amended Basic  Law, which categorically states, “Basic human rights and liberties shall be protected and respected,” and Article 17, which clearly puts it, “Homes shall be inviolable; they may not be subject to surveillance, broken into, or searched, except in accordance with a valid judicial order and in accordance with the provisions of the law,” a comprehensive and integrated Palestinian law on privacy protection concept, grounds, and rules—including the aspect of digital personal data—is conspicuously absent. This legislation is crucial for empowering Palestinians to comprehend their rights and duties and to ascertain accountability for any indiscriminate exploitation of data, irrespective of the sector, be it civil, private, public, or others, in keeping with the State of Palestine’s obligations under international conventions and covenants.6 Nonetheless, a committee, assigned in 2016 to draft a law on personal data protection, is still entangled in the deliberations within the cabinet and has been referred to the concerned ministries for review and observations for the third time.

A human rights organization, 7amleh channels its unwavering effort to advance Palestinian digital rights. Integral to its mission, 7amleh seeks to promote the right to privacy and digital personal data protection. The center publishes several reports, surveys, studies,  and guides, shining a light on the multifaceted landscape and concept of privacy as well as emphasizing the paramount importance of protecting sensitive data from the clutches of Israeli occupation and any form of unauthorized intrusion, exploitation, processing,  and communication within the sensitive tapestry of Palestinian society. These concerted efforts are augmented by extensive training programs, workshops, and seminars, all geared toward raising public awareness about this critical right and laying it out for constant public debate. 7amleh also engages in a suite of digital campaigns and advocacy meetings aimed at bringing positive change in the landscape of the right to privacy and pressuring decision-makers to make a law protecting personal data and the right to privacy— legislation ingrained in constitutional ethos, participatory praxis, transparency, human rights approaches, and international global standards. Aligned with this commitment,  this position paper from 7amleh reviews the Palestinian Personal Data Protection Decree draft, according to its third reading, dated June 15, 2022, rendering analytical observations and in-depth analysis of its articles.

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