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The right to privacy

We’re in the business of connecting people. Businesses rely on us for connecting and communicating with customers. Millions of individuals come together with friends and family through our networks. They have access to vast amounts of information and entertainment at their fingertips. This in turn generates data on our networks. We have a duty to safeguard that data and the privacy of our customers’ communications. But the UK government can compel us to give them access to data on our network, which could affect our customers’ privacy.

The government has a duty to respect, protect and secure all human rights, including privacy. However, not all human rights are absolute. Under international human rights standards, governments can limit rights like privacy and free expression in order to fulfil other duties such as making sure society stays safe.

The breakneck pace of technology development, the growth of the internet and social media, the constantly evolving security threats of terrorism and cyber-attacks - these things make it difficult to find the right balance. As government tries to protect society, companies must play their part: people should be safe from threats, to enjoy their basic rights and freedoms.

Later in this report we explain the government’s current powers to intercept people’s communications or obtain data about those communications. We show how we do our best to respect human rights when we deal with the people exercising those investigatory powers. We detail the safeguards we have to weigh up our different obligations. And we also make a few recommendations on future developments in the law.