Home > Protecting Your Privacy > Conflict Between Privacy and Freedom of Speech

Conflict Between Privacy and Freedom of Speech

By: Matthew Strawbridge - Updated: 2 Oct 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Freedom Right Privacy Public Expression

The second section of the European Convention on Human Rights sets out the freedoms that citizens should have. There are many of these, including freedom from torture and slavery and from retrospective punishment for an act that was not illegal when it was performed.

Of particular interest are the articles relating to privacy (Article 8) and to freedom of expression (Article 10). It’s easy to imagine situations in which these two freedoms could come into conflict. The rest of this article explores this possibility and how the conflict can be prevented.

Freedom of Speech

Most people would agree that freedom of speech, or freedom of expression in general, is a necessity. Societies that have very strict controls about what their citizens can write or say, typically in order to try to control what they think, are oppressive and we should be vigilant against policies that could take us down this route ourselves.

However, it would be anarchy if there were no rules at all about what people can say or do. The freedom of expression of one person should not be allowed to cause harm to some other person. This is why, for example, there are laws against expressing racial and religious hatred.

Slander

A non-permanent defamation of an individual or organisation is called slander. In other words, if one person speaks a lie about another person, causing harm to that person’s reputation, then slander has occurred.

The freedom of expression does not allow people to cause damage to others by spreading false gossip about their character or activities.

Libel

Simply put, libel is the same but in recorded form. When newspapers or magazines are brought before the courts, for allegedly invading someone’s privacy (typically that of a celebrity) they are answering charges of libel.

Such an action typically has a wider audience than a slanderous one. It is also easier to prove. If someone tells a lie about you to someone else, you would find it very difficult to prove that the alleged conversation actually took place and even harder to convince a court what was said. If you have been libelled, in contrast, the facts about what was disclosed and to whom are generally not in question. Such a case instead revolves around whether what was said was untrue and whether its disclosure can be said to have been in the public interest.

The Public Interest

Sometimes the interest of the wider population can be seen to outweigh the interest of an individual. For example, if a judge is discovered by a tabloid newspaper to have had a relationship with a defendant that they subsequently tried, exposing the conflict of interest should reasonably take precedence over the rights of the judge and the defendant to keep their actions confidential. In contrast, if pictures of a celebrity’s holiday on a private island are published, the claim that these were in the public interest would be more difficult to defend.

The Issue of Privacy

When our rights come into conflict, it can be difficult to decide how the matter should be resolved. However, when someone expressing themselves harms someone else’s privacy, the right to confidentiality of the injured party should generally take precedence. There must be extenuating circumstances for this not to be the case, such as issues of national security or genuine public interest.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
@Caroline - it depends upon whether you (as the person who overheard the conversation) wishes to report it to your supervisor's higher. There's no guarantee the supervisor would be given a disciplinary or a warning, it depends on whether the powers above think it is out of line. I don't think it's a sackable offence, more a rap on the knuckles type of an offence.
Jan78 - 3-Oct-17 @ 9:38 AM
I over heard my manager talk openly to two supervisors about an employee that has worked there for 17years. Saying why she wasn't in due to stress although she had a week off and slagged her of in an open office. How does that stand, is that against data protection can the manger have adisciplinary? Thank you
Caroline - 2-Oct-17 @ 1:03 AM
@Tulip - of course you can raise the emails with HR, especially if you feel you have been treated unfairly and it is not part of a phased return to work. If you're signed off sick - you are SICK. Sam.
SLP8/88 - 30-Jan-17 @ 10:00 AM
I have am currently on sick leave. I had a previous absence in December due to a progressive condition which is covered by the Equality Act and which my employers are aware of. My boss has reacted to my current absence by emailing HR and his manager saying that I am unreliable etc and has also said that I have had absences that I have not. He has contacted me whilst on sick leave asking me to do work for him. I'm planning on seeing HR when I return to work. Can I raise the issue of the emails that I know he has sent? They are factually incorrect and unfair.
Tulip - 29-Jan-17 @ 8:05 AM
my wife is employed as a deputy manager. contracted to do 37.5hrs a week.Any hours done over and above are paid as overtime.Recently had a misunderstanding with her manager . The manager without consultation reduced her hours to 36hrs per week and does not give her overtime while other employees have it without requesting. Come month end she receives her full wages. Recently the manager took my wife`s payslip to her subordinate, showed him and asked if my wife deserved amount reflected on payslip. she has been telling everyone that my wife earns more-than her and is always sarcastically quoting my wife`s wages to other employees. Is this not bullying andbreach of employee privacy. Please help
nil - 28-Sep-14 @ 8:27 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Bak2it
    Re: Obligations of Employees
    Hi, last week I returned to work after being off since June 2017. I work at a school, based in a classroom used only by me. The…
    23 October 2017
  • JIMBO
    Re: Tips for Protecting Your Privacy
    I work in a govt department i have been mistreated at work and been signed off sick by the gp for a month on the first…
    21 October 2017
  • EmployeePrivacyRights
    Re: Privacy Laws at Work
    Kellie - Your Question:I have just found out my manager is spreading rumours at my work about me. like telling customers that I am off poorly…
    16 October 2017
  • Kellie
    Re: Privacy Laws at Work
    I have just found out my manager is spreading rumours at my work about me.... like telling customers that i am off poorly as im a drunk and…
    15 October 2017
  • PIP
    Re: Rumours About Sick Leave: Has My Privacy Been Invaded?
    i have been off work due to low mood and anxiety for 3 weeks, took a lot of effort to go back to…
    4 October 2017
  • EmployeePrivacyRights
    Re: Worker-Manager Confidentiality
    Sassy - Your Question:I was on a temporary contract and was verbally offered the job in that time another contractor contacted…
    3 October 2017
  • Jan78
    Re: Conflict Between Privacy and Freedom of Speech
    @Caroline - it depends upon whether you (as the person who overheard the conversation) wishes to report it…
    3 October 2017
  • Sassy
    Re: Worker-Manager Confidentiality
    I was on a temporary contract and was verbally offered the job in that time another contractor contacted me for an interview and…
    2 October 2017
  • Caroline
    Re: Conflict Between Privacy and Freedom of Speech
    I over heard my manager talk openly to two supervisors about an employee that has worked there for 17years.…
    2 October 2017
  • EmployeePrivacyRights
    Re: Contacting Employees in Their Homes
    Lady - Your Question:We have a whatsapp group page for work but we are getting messages early in the morning and late at…
    29 September 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the EmployeePrivacyRights website. Please read our Disclaimer.