Table 5: Harm Reduction and the Right to Privacy

Examples of Human Rights Violations

  • Police are authorized to arrest or detain people based on suspected drug use, without having to prove possession or trafficking of drugs.
  • Police are authorized to test the urine of anyone suspected of using drugs.
  • School officials are authorized to conduct invasive searches of children and random drug testing.
  • Government maintains registries of suspected drug users.
  • Doctor discloses a patient’s history of drug use or addiction without consent.
  • Clinic shares lists of registered drug users with law enforcement.
  • Police raid the home of a suspected drug user without evidence or judicial authorization.
Human Rights Standards Treaty Body Interpretation
CRC 16(1): No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.

CRC 16 (2) The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

CRC General Comment No. 4 (11): “Health-care providers have an obligation to keep confidential medical information concerning adolescents, bearing in mind the basic principles of the Convention. Such information may only be disclosed with the consent of the adolescent, or in the same situations applying to the violation of an adult’s confidentiality. Adolescents deemed mature enough to receive counselling without the presence of a parent or other person are entitled to privacy and may request confidential services, including treatment.” CRC/GC/2003/4 (2003).
Human Rights Standards Case Law
ECHR 8(1): Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

ECHR 8(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.

ECtHR: The Court found that there was no compelling reason for monitoring letter correspondence to a prisoner facing drug charges and who was suspected as an illicit drug user. Although the law requires that letters addressed to prisoners are always opened in front of them, the Court found that the State must respect the confidentiality of letters from official authorities, in this case the Commission’s Secretariat. Peers v. Greece, 28524/95 (April 19, 2001)

Other Interpretations

Declaration on the Promotion of Patients’ Rights in Europe

Art. 4.1: All information about a patient’s health status . . . must be kept confidential, even after death.
Art. 4.8: Patients admitted to health care establishments have the right to expect physical facilities which ensure privacy . . . .”

European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, Art 10(1): “Everyone has the right to respect for private life in relation to information about his or her health.”

US Supreme Court: ruling that Arizona school officials’ strip search of a 13-year-old girl suspected of possessing painkillers violated the Fourth Amendment, despite the school’s zero-tolerance drug policy. Safford Unified Sch. Dist. #1 v. Redding, No. 08–479, 129 S. Ct. __ (2009).