Thursday, November 25, 2004

Leading privacy groups release annual global report

Privacy International and the Electronic Privacy Information Center have recently released their seventh annual Privacy and Human Rights Survey, which details global threats to privacy and related civil rights. It particularly highlights the increasing surveillance of citizens and intrusive uses of technology in the battle against terrorism.

From the joint EPIC/PI press release:

Privacy International & EPIC Release Annual Global Privacy Study



Major report sets out government surveillance strategies

17th November 2004

A major international privacy report published today has concluded that governments across the world have substantially increased surveillance in the past year. The report warns that threats to personal privacy have reached a level that is dangerous to fundamental human rights.

The 7th annual Privacy and Human Rights survey, published by Privacy International & the US based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) reviews the state of privacy in sixty countries and warns that invasions of privacy across the world has increased significantly in the past twelve months. The 800 page report is available free of charge at

The report paints a bleak picture of the erosion of the right to privacy, particularly since the September 11th attacks in the United States. It observed: that crime and public order laws passed in recent years have placed substantial limitations on numerous rights, including freedom of assembly, privacy, freedom of movement, the right of silence, and freedom of speech. Governments have continued to use terrorism as the pretext for an increase of surveillance, even when surveillance is unwarranted.

The report identifies a trend across the world toward mass surveillance of the general population, and cited a catalogue of illegal spying and surveillance activities by government agencies.

In response to calls for increased security many countries have pursued policy and legislative efforts that aim at implementing identification schemes, expanding the surveillance of communications for law enforcement and national security agencies, weakening data protection regimes, and intensifying data sharing and collection practices - all made possible by a growing cooperation between government entities and the private sector.

The report singles out a number of trends:

  • New identification measures and new traveller pre-screening and profiling systems
  • New anti-terrorism laws and governmental measures provide for increased search capabilities and sharing of information among law enforcement authorities
  • Increased video surveillance
  • DNA and health information databases
  • Censorship measures
  • Radio frequency identification technologies
  • New electronic voting technologies
  • Mismanagement of personal data and major data leaks

Privacy International's Director, Simon Davies, said the report highlighted a 'disturbing' trend toward greater state power. 'Governments are systematically removing the right to privacy. Surveillance of every type is being instituted throughout society without any thought about the need for safeguards.'

'The spectre of terrorism has at last become the device that any government can deploy to entrench the powers they always sought. The situation has become a dangerous farce,' he added.

'Governments are joining together their data systems. They are sharing information to a greater extent each year with the private sector. And they are cooperating unquestioningly with other governments to exchange vast reserves of personal information. This situation cannot continue without imperilling the right to privacy', said Mr Davies.

On a more upbeat note, the report did identify positive counter-trends:

'Invasions of privacy were met in various countries with forceful reactions from human rights groups. In Germany, outcry against a retail chain's use of RFID tags unbeknownst to its customers led to the halt to the company's projects. In Greece, the data protection authority struck down the use of biometric identity verification in airports because the collection of personal information through RFID tags exceeded its purpose. In Malaysia, the Bar Council criticized the security and privacy risks of Mykad, the multi-purpose smart card, which forced the government to work on a legislation to answer such concerns. In Poland, the Constitutional Tribunal held unconstitutional a law that allowed police officers to observe and record events in public places. Public interest groups had opposed the law alleging that it violated the right to privacy enshrined in the Polish Constitution. In Sweden, the privacy commissioner forbade a school's fingerprint recognition program. In Ukraine, a new law that restricts access to information was strongly opposed by several NGOs and international organizations because of its violation of the Constitution and global freedom of information standards. In reaction, amendments were introduced that improve the final version of the law.'

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