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
  • Should the government be allowed to track your emails and phone calls?
Key Messages

Balancing rights can be difficult. There have been lots of debates recently 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 argue that it is an excessive invasion of privacy. This highlights how rights can be controversial and involve difficult trade-offs.

  • Students will consider the arguments for and against online surveillance, and whether it infringes on the right to privacy
  • Students will consider whether there is a trade-off between freedom and security
  • Students will identify arguments for and against online surveillance
  • Students will give a speech about surveillance, giving reasons for their views
  • Students will evaluate statements about human rights, giving reasons for their views
Links to National Curriculum

Students consider the precious liberties enjoyed by citizens of the United Kingdom and the role of the police. They debate and evaluate viewpoints and present reasoned arguments.



  • Project Slides 1 and 2 of MV Citizenship Resource 2.1 Human Rights and Surveillance. Ask students to draw “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 and what it represents.
  • Show Slide 3, the picture of a CCTV camera looking at a computer. Ask them what they think this picture means. Then show this webpage and video clip. The page, from BBC Newsround (video no longer available but text still accessible) (, is easier to understand. The second is a clip, from the main BBC news (, and is more complex and will challenge the understanding of higher ability groups.

Phase 1

  • Show Slides 4 to 15 and ask students to imagine that they are Prime Minister. On their first day in office, they are confronted with a difficult decision about the extent of surveillance: While security services want to monitor phone calls and emails, there are concerns about invasion of privacy.
  • Give out print-outs of MV Citizenship Resource 2.2 How far should surveillance go. Alternatively, cut the sheets up into six different cards and ask students to study the information in groups, with each student feeding back to the rest of the group on information on their card.
  • As students read the information, they can copy and complete the table given on the Slide 16.

Phase 2

  • Show Slide 17 and tell students that they must make their decision and prepare a speech justifying their reasons. The support sheet, MV Citizenship Resource 2.3 Writing a speech, can be used by those students who need support.

Phase 3

  • Show Slide 18 and hold a “press conference”. Selected students must give a speech in the role of Prime Minister. 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 Prime Minister, allowing more students to participate and supporting lower abilities.
  • After watching students’ contributions, you may wish to play the clip of David Cameron on Slide 19 giving a press conference about surveillance laws. (The first thirty seconds of the clip are best.  After that the detail will be too specific for many students to follow.)


  • Spectrum line: Ask students to think back over both sessions on human rights. There are five controversial statements on Slides 20 to 25.  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.
  • Having explored the Human Rights Act, is it a useful framework for living in a safe, equitable society?
  • Refer back to Miriam’s story and the theme: Different Needs, Common Ground. How does it relate to human rights?