Session 2: Human rights: Balancing rights and responsibilities

Citizenship (Ages 11-14)
Session 2: Human rights: Balancing rights and responsibilities
  • Different Needs, Common Ground
  • Human rights: Balancing rights and responsibilities
  • Example: The right to privacy
Key Messages

Balancing rights can be difficult. There has been a lot of debate about the right to privacy, in particular how much power the government should have to monitor our phone calls and emails. Some argue that surveillance is necessary to fight extremism and organised crime; others that it is an excessive invasion of privacy. This highlights how rights can be controversial and involve difficult trade-offs.

  • Consider the trade-off between the right to privacy and security
  • Consider arguments for and against online surveillance
  • Identify arguments for and against online surveillance
  • Give a presentation about surveillance, giving reasons for their views
  • Evaluate statements about human rights
Links to National Curriculum

National curriculum in England: Citizenship programmes of study for key stages 3 and 4


  • consider the precious liberties enjoyed by the citizens of the United Kingdom
  • consider the nature of rules and laws and the justice system, including the role of the police
  • explore political and social issues critically, to weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments


Ask if anyone would like to share their homework assignment from the previous session with the group. Some stories might inspire discussion. Some might help or reassure others. Trust can also improve group dynamics. Show appreciation to students who share and be explicit in recognising that sharing implies trust in the group.

Phase 1

  • Project Slides 1 and 2 of MV Citizenship Resource 2.1 Human Rights and Surveillance. Ask students to represent “rights” on A4 paper without using any words. This is trickier than it sounds. The purpose is to encourage students to creatively consider the concept of rights.
  • Show Slide 3, a picture of a CCTV camera pointed at a laptop monitor. Ask students to speculate what it means. Then show one or both of the video clip links on the slide. Video clip 1 is from Newsround (, is easier to understand. Video clip 2 is from the main BBC news (, and is more complex. You may want to use it to differentiate for higher ability. Feed back as a class to ensure understanding. The main point is that there is a balance between the right to privacy and security, with arguments for both sides.

Phase 2

  • Show Slide 4, today's big question. "Should the government be allowed to know what you do online?" Before going any further, it would be interesting to take a baseline show-of-hands vote and note the numbers for, against and not sure.
  • Read through Slides 5 to 15. "Who lives here?" (10 Downing Street / The Prime Minister) "You!" The scenario is set, requiring students to imagine that they have been elected Prime Minister. On the first day in charge, the PM is asked for permission to access the public's communications by the country's security and intelligence services. (Slide 11 shows the Government Communications Headquarters logo, the MI5 crest and the MI6 logo.) Slide 14 puts the legal case for the right to privacy. Slide 15 puts forward the three options: 1. Let the security services collect information about all phone calls, emails and internet searches. 2. Only let the security services collect information if they have evidence that somebody might be a criminal or a terrorist. 3. Don’t let the security services collect any information. Then there is the instruction: "Before you decide, you must listen to all the arguments and hear different points of view."
  • MV Citizenship Resource 2.2 How far should surveillance go has the opinion of six people. This activity can be organised in different ways according to ability levels and time available. Slide 16 has the headings "Person", "For or against?" and "Reasons". Students can copy the headings and make notes individually, in pairs or groups, or you could do the activity as a whole class.
  • Slide 17 has the instruction: "In ten minutes, you must face the world’s media and tell them what you have decided. You must prepare a short speech, giving reasons for your decision." You may want to use the support sheet, MV Citizenship Resource 2.3 Writing a speech.
  • Slide 18 invites the PM to hold a “press conference” with the instruction, "Tell the world what you have decided!". Selected students must give a speech in the role of the PM. The rest of the class are journalists who can question or challenge their views. Depending on the class, you may wish to have a group act as a “team of ministers” as well as or instead of having just one PM, allowing more students to participate and supporting lower abilities.
  • Slide 19 is a clip of David Cameron (PM from 2010 to 2016) giving a press conference about surveillance laws. (The whole clip is 1 minute 45 seconds. After the first thirty seconds the detail will be too specific for many students, but as it is short you might still play the whole thing and elicit the main points from the group afterwards.)
  • Refer back to the big question of the day (Slide 4: "Should the government be allowed to know what you do online?"), and take another show-of-hands vote and compare the numbers to the first vote. Can people who changed their vote explain why?

Plenary 1

  • Spectrum line: Ask students to think back over both sessions on human rights. There are five controversial statements on Slides 20 to 24. You can select any or all. For each statement, students should move to one side or the other of the room to show their level of agreement. Ask students to justify where they are standing.

Plenary 2

  • Slide 26 Is the Human Rights Act useful for living in a safe, fair society? This question can be put to the whole group. Hopefully the consensus will be "Yes", even though there might be room for improvement.
  • Refer back to MV Citizenship Resource 1.2 Human Rights Act Articles. Which articles relate to the London bombings? (Article 2, the right to life, as well as Article 9, the right to hold your own beliefs and Article 10, the right to opinions and views.) Those who perpetrated the bombings had the right to their own beliefs, opinions and views, including wanting change, but they contravened others' right to life.
  • End with the question on Slide 27. Leading on to the next sessions, and continuing with the theme (Different Needs, Common Ground) how can we change and improve society while also respecting each others' rights? See what ideas the students have, and whether or not anyone mentions democracy.