An International Right to Privacy? Be Careful What You Wish For

28 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2015

Date Written: February 24, 2015


Nations now have unprecedented capacity to spy on global communication, and yet they typically acknowledge no legal restrictions on their right to surveil non-citizens outside their borders. Moreover, incidental collection and inter-governmental cooperation give people little protection against surveillance by their own governments as well.

There is growing support for plugging these loopholes by a multilateral agreement that would establish internationally applicable safeguards. The present paper concludes that such an agreement, far from strengthening global privacy protection, would almost certainly weaken it. Even among Western democracies, the search for transnational common ground and the institutional priorities of the negotiators would be inimical to a privacy-protective accord. Paradoxically, privacy will be better served by leaving all nations free to go their own way. Political and economic dynamics render needed reforms more likely through U.S. domestic law than through international agreements, and such reforms would benefit not only Americans but also the world at large.

Suggested Citation

Schulhofer, Stephen J., An International Right to Privacy? Be Careful What You Wish For (February 24, 2015). NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 15-15. Available at SSRN: or

Stephen J. Schulhofer (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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