The cultural emphasis on privacy is one that permeates every level of Saudi Arabian society. One finds, for example, the grounds of private residences enclosed by lofty stone walls, restaurants with opaque curtains enshrouding each dinner party, and private, separate female waiting areas and building entrances. Even Saudi cultural dress reflects this emphasis on privacy: traditionally, women wear abayas (loose black robes from head to toe) and face coverings with only their eyes in public view.
As one might expect, this emphasis on privacy is strongly reflected in Saudi Arabia’s laws. The Shari’a (Islamic law), as interpreted and applied in Saudi Arabia, establishes privacy as a right based on the dignity of the individual. Moreover, the Saudi Constitution (Basic Law of Governance) repeatedly makes mention of the right to privacy. The Constitution guarantees, for example, the privacy of telegraphic and postal communications, as well as that of telephonic and other means of communication. At the same time, it prohibits surveillance or eavesdropping of such communications (art. 40), except as provided by law (e.g., in the case of a threat to national security).
The explicit mention of the right to privacy in the Saudi Constitution can be contrasted with the constitutions of many common law and civil law jurisdictions, which make no express mention of the right to privacy. In the United States, for example, the constitutional right to privacy derives from “penumbras,” or peripheral rights, stemming from those explicitly enumerated in the Bill of Rights (see Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965)). In Spain, the constitutional right to privacy derives from the right to personal honor and intimacy, as laid out in Article 18.1 of the Constitution (“derecho al honor, a la intimidad personal y familiar y a la propia imagen”).