If you live in the US or UK, you might (or might not, depending on your politics) be surprised to find both countries painted black, just like Russia, China, and Malaysia.
Take a look at the map below. It shows privacy rights around the world; the brighter the color, the better for privacy. If you live in the US or UK, you might (or might not, depending on your politics) be surprised to find both countries painted black, just like Russia, China, and Malaysia. A new report out from Privacy International (UK) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (US) claims that both countries now feature "endemic" surveillance.
The groups responsible for the report make clear that they are proud of this piece of work, which they call "the most comprehensive single volume report published in the human rights field." And it's certainly long, weighing in at more than 1,100 pages and featuring a mind-numbing 6,000 footnotes. If you want to learn more about the state of privacy around the world, you could do worse than starting here.
Source: Privacy International/EPIC
Since 2006, the report has ranked countries, meaning that 2007 is the first year that progress (or decline) can be assessed. Most countries declined over the course of the year, as did the US (the UK has held its "black" ranking for two straight years, though Scotland is doing a bit better than England and Wales). The US is now "the worst ranking country in the democratic world" based on changes to the FISA court, the development of the Automated Targeting System, the REAL ID Act, and more. The UK is the worst country in the EU, though most of the "older democracies" also declined; the newer democracies are generally doing better.
Greece, Romania, and Canada took the top three spots, despite none having better than a middling record on privacy matters.
The goal of calling out countries, says the report, is "not to humiliate the worst ranking nations, but to demonstrate that it is possible to maintain a healthy respect for privacy within a secure and fully functional democracy." Many established democracies have decided to beef up their surveillance apparatus in the last few years over concerns about terrorism and immigration, but the report concludes that the new technologies and databases used now mean "all citizens, regardless of legal status, are under suspicion."
The report makes for a depressing but fascinating read. Did you know, for instance, that Venezuela requires an identification card number, fingerprints, and a signature in order to get a telephone or cellphone? Or that Zimbabwe requires journalists to be licensed by the state? Or that Switzerland runs a "national hooligan database" for unruly football fans? Or that South Korea requires Internet users to give their real names and a government registration number before posting comments on message boards? Or that no new Internet cafes will be licensed in China?
Not all surveillance and tracking is a bad thing, but the report argues that such decisions need to be made "rationally and openly." The data offered by the report should help interested parties do just that.