The Right to Root: Constructing a Claim to Control Devices from the Right to Privacy


  • Ot van Daalen


Privacy, Self-Determination, Smart Devices, The Right to Root


Empowering people with digital tools has been an enduring ideal throughout the history of computing. In some of the earlier visions, this was not only a matter of making life easier, it was also a matter of people gaining control over their digital tools. One solution to this problem which has been suggested is to provide users with a manual override to gain full control over a device, something called gaining ‘root’ – hence the ‘Right to Root’. Yet, there are no policymakers who have seriously entertained this as a possibility. For people pushing this right at a policy level, it would therefore be helpful to know whether this Right to Root can be constructed from human rights. In this article, I explore the European human rights-based arguments for a Right to Root, focusing on the right to privacy under the European Convention for Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. I first discuss the origins of this ideal of gaining control over your own devices. I then show how users over the years have gained less control and how the Right to Root could enable them to regain control. I then explore how the Right to Root could be constructed from the right to privacy under the Convention and the Charter, by understanding it as a way to protect the values of autonomy, self-determination and seclusion. I conclude that a Right to Root can be grounded in the human right to privacy, but that further research is necessary to balance it with other interests, such as cybersecurity, traffic safety, health and intellectual property.