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.