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Privacy International slams US and UK

Over the holidays I had the opportunity to have dinner with American friends where, unsurprisingly, the topic of the war in Iraq was discussed.  While the US Patriot Act's egregious civil liberties abuses were discussed, the focus of our discussion was really US foreign policy.  That surprised me; enough so that I offered the opinion that perhaps the greatest damage done to the United States by George Bush's adventure in Iraq wouldn't be felt until after the war, as citizens will inevitably come to grips with the surveillance society that has been created in the name of "security".  My American friends felt that the pendulum would swing back at that point and that civil liberties would be restored.

But will they?

An article in yesterday's Globe and Mail caught my eye.  Privacy International has published their 2007 International Privacy Rankings for 47 countries.  Several things alarmed me.

The worst privacy offenders in the world today are Russia, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the US and the UK.  Labelled Endemic Surveillance Societies, these countries lack even the most basic laws to protect the rights of the citizenry.  The UK was cited for its "world leading surveillance schemes", "lack of accountability", "plans regarding surveillance of communications networks", and a planned identity scheme that will be "the most invasive in the world".  Similarly, the US is cited for "spreading use of close circuit TV", "presidential program of spying on foreign communications", "world leading border surveillance", and so on. 

Here in Canada, we're one of the top 3 countries with a good record. However, that has deteriorated from 2006 to 2007 due to our government's willingness to bow to US pressure, and to the increasing deployment of surveillance cameras here. 

While it's disheartening to see Canadian rights being compromised, it's frankly shocking to see the US and the UK lumped together with China and Russia. Let's hope, despite the massive build out of surveillance cameras and biometric systems, that once this war has concluded, sanity will return in these countries.  Otherwise the biggest casualties in this war won't the soldiers… it will be you and I, our friends, and our rights.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Aydin Mirzaee January 1, 2008, 1:27 pm

    you know, I wonder if the best surveillance of all would be through the use of social networks… if these agencies had unlimited and uncontrolled access to everyone's online profiles (their activities, their friends, google search history, etc…), wouldn't that be the best surveillance of all? I argue that would be more useful than thousands of cameras all over the place…

    Aydin.

  • Alec January 1, 2008, 2:08 pm

    eee…. sounds just like neighbours spying on neighbours for the Stasi in East Germany!

  • MGU January 2, 2008, 12:05 pm

    An interesting article, Alec! Thankyou. Here are a few observations of my own. When nations are under threat or perceived threat, it is easy for governments to justify and persuade people that extaordinary measures are necessary. Extreme governments and leaders like this sort of situation because it makes it easier for them to apply measures that under ordinary circumstances would not be possible. The only differences between a Franco Spain, a Stalin Russia, a Castro Cuba or George W. America are in the manifestations of surveillance and repression. Americans are fortunate to be protected (to some extent) by an old (if outdated) constitution, but that has not stopped determined people and political parties from attempting to circumvent it while all the time paying it homage. Have you never asked yourself why America is permanantly "at war" – "war against communism", "facism", "nazziism", "crime", "drugs", "terror" or whatever? It is to give politicians the edge against those who are "soft" on whatever the latest bogeyman happens to be, and to increase the possibily of passing repressive measures, vilifying the "liberal" press and so on. The war against communism was good as long as it lasted. Russia was "a riddle wrapped up in an enigma", a powerful, shadowy presence in the world about which little else was known. Hence huge monies could be spent "defending America and its allies" and repressing dissent. The "War on terror" is great! No-one knows exactly who is being fought or where the enemy happens to be. There certainly is an enemy tho'. That can be seen in the embassy bombings, 9/11, the London bombings, the Madrid bombings and so on. Hence paranoia is fomented, extraordinary measures are imposed and tolerated, and dissent stiffled so far as possible.

    You and The Globe & Mail article claim that Canada has bowed to American pressure in reducing protection for Canadians. I don't think you are right. In my view, Harper and his "Conservatives" are very similar to Bush and his Republicans. They would enact similar measures to those of Bush and Co. if they could get away with it and will do so if they get a majority. Harpur's fixed date election act is simply a device to make it easier for him to remain in power should he face a hostile Commons or electorate.

    Last, I admit to paranoia about businesses collecting information about my buying habits, attitudes and such like. I know the rationale for such activity, but it seems to me to be an unwaranted and dangerous invasion of privacy. I shouldn't mind if it helps to bring me products or services I might like, but somehow the notion that it is being done without my consent alarms me. What are these fellows really up to, I ask myself. They are at least a frightening as my government.

    Dad

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