At first glance, these two (2) concepts may seem distinct though related, especially as one may be viewed as a constitutional fundamental right (right to privacy) while the other has no particular definite legislation (data protection). The major legislation on data protection in Nigeria is the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) which though is not a principal legislation, is the most comprehensive law on data protection. This law is obviously influenced by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a regulation in European Union law on data protection.
Data protection is the prevention of personal data from unauthorized use. According to Article 4 of the GDPR, (a similar provision under the NDPR), personal data means ‘any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (data subject). Therefore, data protection is the protection of any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person from unauthorized use. Though neither the GDPR nor the NDPR defined the concept of an identified natural person, an identifiable natural person is said to be a natural person who cannot be so distinguished from all other persons within a group but it is possible to identify him directly or indirectly by reference to certain things such as name, identification number, an online identifier, location data or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person. Deducing from the above, an identified natural person can be distinguished from all other persons within a group while an identifiable natural person cannot except by reference. Any of such information that relates to such identified or identifiable natural person is subject to data protection. On the other hand, right to privacy is a constitutional right that guarantees and protects ‘ the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications. Simply put, right to privacy protects the privacy of data.
One can opine from this that the major interest the constitution seeks to guarantee and protect is the subject matter of data protection. In a way, the right to privacy is the constitutional guarantee of data protection. According to Olumide Babalola in ‘Casebook on Data Protection’, quoting from the decision in Fabrice Gardel v. France, ‘the protection of personal data is a fundamental importance to a person’s enjoyment of his or her right to privacy’. To my mind, you cannot enforce the fundamental right to privacy without data protection. To put it better, the right to privacy is invariably the right for data protection. Truly, the right to privacy extends to, if not solely reliant on personal data. For the avoidance of doubt, data protection is not Privacy but to enjoy privacy, data protection is essential. Since data protection is not the same as privacy even though both overlap, data protection might not be enforced under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules as privacy might. This is so because right to privacy is a fundamental right safeguarded under the Nigerian Constitution and as such can be enforced under the FREP Rules but the constitution did not provide for any right to data privacy. One may however argue that since data protection is so fundamental to enforcing the fundamental right to privacy, then data protection ought to be enforceable under the FREP Rules. This argument though plausible, may not be accurate as it would equate Data Protection with Right to Privacy and most importantly defeat the whole essence of the FREP Rules which is to enforce a constitutional fundamental right. Data Protection is not a constitutional right and it would amount to abuse of the rules if the FREP Rules is extended to Data Protection.
Conclusively, in the words of a decision in Casbook on Data Protection by Olumide Babalola, the relationship between data protection and the right to privacy is that ‘the rights conferred on data subjects for their protection with regard to the processing of personal data constitute rules for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms’. True, right to privacy extends to data protection but right to privacy is not data protection. Again, true that data protection is essential to right to privacy but data protection is not right to privacy. At best, they are complementary of each other.
Olusola Alexander Esq. is a prolific writer and consummate commercial practice lawyer. He is a Principal Partner and the Solicitor of the firm. He has specifically handled matters on Digital Privacy, formation of companies, company compliance, vetting of diverse contracts in different fields of law.