Since 1997 two NGOs – the US-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and the UK-based Privacy International – have surveyed and assessed the state of surveillance and privacy protection in 47 countries. The annual Privacy & Human Rights Report compiled from their findings has by now become one of the most comprehensive surveys of global privacy and citizen rights.
Their most recent report published a few days ago has been created with the help of more than 200 experts from around the world and has grown to 1,100 pages. It shows trends of
“…an overall worsening of privacy protection across the world, reflecting an increase in surveillance and a declining performance of privacy safeguards…“, and
“…an increasing trend amongst governments to archive data on the geographic, communications and financial records of all their citizens and residents. This trend leads to the conclusion that all citizens, regardless of legal status, are under suspicion…” (see key findings below)
Countries like the US and the UK, once shining examples of democracy and civil rights, have now become “endemic” surveillance societies – the worst (black on the chart) ranking within the report. While the UK due to his surveillance practices already “reached” this negative maximum before, the US “catched up” this year.
Other Western European countries like for example Germany will most likely follow soon – maybe already in 2008 – when they will enact new European surveillance laws that had been hectically pushed through under massive pressure from the US (and are received with great entrancement by the European extreme-right wing parties as it paves the ground for them far further that they ever could have hoped for…)
Summary of key findings
- The 2007 rankings indicate an overall worsening of privacy protection across the world, reflecting an increase in surveillance and a declining performance o privacy safeguards.
- Concern over immigration and border control dominated the world agenda in 2007. Countries have moved swiftly to implement database, identity and fingerprinting systems, often without regard to the privacy implications for their own citizens
- The 2007 rankings show an increasing trend amongst governments to archive data on the geographic, communications and financial records of all their citizens and residents. This trend leads to the conclusion that all citizens, regardless of legal status, are under suspicion.
- The privacy trends have been fueled by the emergence of a profitable surveillance industry dominated by global IT companies and the creation of numerous international treaties that frequently operate outside judicial or democratic processes.
- Despite political shifts in the US Congress, surveillance initiatives in the US continue to expand, affecting visitors and citizens alike.
- Surveillance initiatives initiated by Brussels have caused a substantial decline in privacy across Europe, eroding protections even in those countries that have shown a traditionally high regard for privacy.
- The privacy performance of older democracies in Europe is generally failing, while the performance of newer democracies is becoming generally stronger.
- The lowest ranking countries in the survey continue to be Malaysia, Russia and China. The highest-ranking countries in 2007 are Greece, Romania and Canada.
- The 2006 leader, Germany, slipped significantly in the 2007 rankings, dropping from 1st to 7th place behind Portugal and Slovenia.
- In terms of statutory protections and privacy enforcement, the US is the worst ranking country in the democratic world. In terms of overall privacy protection the United States has performed very poorly, being out-ranked by both India and the Philippines and falling into the “black” category, denoting endemic surveillance.
- The worst ranking EU country is the United Kingdom, which again fell into the “black” category along with Russia and Singapore. However for the first time Scotland has been given its own ranking score and performed significantly better than England & Wales.
- Argentina scored higher than 18 of the 27 EU countries.
- Australia ranks higher than Slovakia but lower than South Africa and New Zealand.
Related information and notes
While the report in general rates more moderate countries – which is even more alarming – some thoughts and related information paint a similarly dark picture:
If you follow current debates in Germany that, due to its Nazi past just 70 years ago might be a bit more sensitive to this topic, you would not believe what is now discussed openly (again). While a few of those put into Concentration camps by German Nazis during the 1940s are still alive (many of the non Jewish survivors are still waiting for compensation), the most prominent politicians of that country are loudly asking for opening “camps” again (at first for young criminals) that in new speak are now called “education camps“.
One should remember that the “official” reason for the KZs also was “education” and there are elections in the states of the loudest squallers. While this is no excuse for such totalitarian speak (and willingness to act) seemingly others like for example the top Jewish council representatives in Germany also see this danger and have just a few days ago publish a very strong statement about it.
And with the new laws in place of course everybody is a criminal until (s)he can proof different (which for sure with the use of new surveillance technology will be made almost impossible). Maybe soon in Germany and this time also in other European countries again many might have to pass through portals under the slogan Arbeit macht frei. Lets hope there are some people with power and reason left to save us from this.
Also just a few days ago Jan Hoeg, the head of a consortium of the five largest western global TV and radio stations (BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle, Radio France Internationale, Radio Netherlands Worldwide and Voice of America) complained that more and more countries are blocking radio / TV signals and Internet traffic or using censorship on the content. He calls the situation highly distressing and considers it in conflict with the UN declaration of Human Rights.
The five stations that are producing programs in 60 languages are also warning that journalists are more and more endangered and their work obstructed. Reporters sans frontieres, for example, reports that during 2007 86 journalists have been killed in 21 countries around the world while or because of their work. This is an increase of almost 250% over the last 5 years and the highest figure since 1994 when more than a 100 journalists had lost their lives in the Rwanda genocide and civil wars in Yugoslavia and Algeria.
Note: Please forgive us our cynicism but all the “happy messages” from politicians of the countries mentioned above more and more sound like a reply from Joseph Stalin when asked about the situation in the former Soviet Union during one of its worst periods:
…Everything is getting easier and everything is getting better…”
More information on the report at the Privacy International web site.
- Data Visualization: Doctors of the World
- VoIP encryption in a surveillance society
- Data Visualization: Web Trend Map 2007
- Europe: European Innovation Scoreboard 2006 published
The image below was created as a poster for Dutch doctors to hangs on the wall of their waiting rooms. With 170 inhabitants per doctor Cuba is still the world leader on that chart. Not unsurprising other (former) communist countries follow on the next positions (in some of those countries the numbers have already started to deteriorate).
Those of you that have time to get over to the Stanford campus this Wednesday afternoon (March 7th) should do and listen to “Phil Zimmerman’s” talk on VoIP encryption in a surveillance society. For all of you who can’t make it Stanford will put a video online at their “Computer Systems Colloquium (EE380)” site. Phil is the creator of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), the most widely used email encryption software in the world. He is also known for his work in VoIP encryption protocols…
Another trend map in the form of a tube map. Seemingly these “tube maps” are getting rather popular this year. This trend map from Information Architects Japan shows all the big players, the current Internet trends and how they’re connected…
The European Innovation Scoreboard measures the innovation performance of a country’s economy based on a wide range of 25 indicators, from education to expenditure in Information and Communication Technologies, investment in R&D or number of patents. Countries with a more homogeneous behavior in all aspects of innovation tend to achieve higher overall scores.
“…For the fourth consecutive year, the innovation gap between the US and the EU has decreased. The Nordic countries and Switzerland continue to be the innovation leaders worldwide, while many of the new Member States are steadily catching up with the EU average. These are some of the main findings of the European Innovation Scoreboard 2006, published today. The report presents a comparative analysis of the innovation performance of European countries, the US and Japan…