Abstract: Our private lives have appeared all-encompassing during the pandemic. Confined at home, other dimensions of life seem to have become mere appendages to them. This may endure if more work, purchasing and consumption is done from home, and more healthcare and social care provided to those at home. This has left our private lives more exposed as others Zoom into them over the internet. It also happens as understandings of private life become more porous. If many expose treat traditionally intimate matters to the wider public, public places are increased exposed to claims of a failure to respect of the private lives of individuals inhabiting or passing through these places. If data processing subjects our private lives to ever more reconstruction, commodification, and oversight by strangers, it has also shifted attitudes on what many are willing to share. This is likely to be blurred further with the onset of the metaverse and its integration of augmented and physical realities and creation of an embodied internet. If private life has become more salient, fissile and exposed,  the central law addressing it, the right to respect for private life set out in Article 8 ECHR, remains remarkably uncertain. It contains no definition, a plethora of statements about its mission, multiple lines of reasoning, and unclear parameters. This limits its capacity to develop to address the challenges outlined above.  It also renders our private lives vulnerable. For, pace Article 8 ECHR, measures and activities need not respect our private lives for a wide variety of reasons. If we cannot say what private live means or why it should be valued, it counts for less when weighed against these reasons.

This has all occurred because of obscurity about what private life is about. The second part of this paper argues this can be addressed through reconstructing the law on private life to grant individuals the right to respect for a meaningful life of their own.  Such a life would involve three things: coming to terms with life, a fulfilled life, and a life that matters. Law cannot secure that life for any of us. It can, however, secure the conditions that enable each of us to have such a life, and it can ensure such a life is respected. This would involve Article 8 ECHR protecting five entitlements: A sense of personal security; agency over how I am known; the seclusion to develop meaningful thoughts and feelings of my own; a narrative of my own; and an autonomous life with others. Establishing such a pan European right would, yes, give the idea of Europe more meaning. More important, it would open up legal arenas and horizons to the evacuation, manipulation and colonisation of meaning that people experience as deeply problematic across Europe.

Damian Chalmers is Professor at the NUS Law and its Vice Dean for Research. Damian has worked at the London School of Economics and Political Science for twenty four years with ten of these as a Professor. He was Head of its European Institute and the Jean Monnet Centre there for four years. He has held Visiting Appointments at the CEU, College of Europe, Copenhagen, EUI, Fundacao Getulio Vargas, Instituto de Empresa, Institute of Advanced Studies Vienna, and Fudan (PRC). He was also a Strauss Fellow at NYU and a Senior Fellow on the British ESRC ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ programme. He was co-editor of the European Law Review for six years and won the Wedderbrun Prize in 1997 for best article in the Modern Law Review in that year.

The seminar will take place on 9 December, 13:00-14:30, online only (Zoom links will be available to registered participants).

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