Aided by cutting edge technologies, governments demonstrate little restraint in tracking their citizens

2006 and 2007 proved to be dismal years for privacy advocates, as governments the world over showed little restraint in their deployments of the latest surveillance technologies.

Privacy International released its 2007 annual International Privacy Rankings on December 28, and the results are chilling. The report is based on the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s September 2007 1,100-page “Privacy & Human Rights” report, which Privacy International called the “single most comprehensive single volume report in the human rights field.”

Among the survey’s 47 ranked countries, not a single nation improved its rating over 2006’s rankings; each country either maintained the previous year’s classification or fell further towards a “surveillance state.” Well over half of the ranked countries were ranked at or below a ranking of “systemic failure to uphold [privacy] safeguards,” with a significant number of countries featuring “extensive” or “endemic” surveillance societies.

The temptations of surveillance seduced even the most stalwart of privacy-supporting countries, with the “adequate safeguards against abuse” ranking dropping from five countries – Greece, Germany, Belgium, Austria, and Canada in 2006 – to just one: Greece.

Concerns over border control and threat of terrorism dominated surveillance-oriented initiatives, with “all citizens, regardless of legal status,” increasingly “under suspicion.” Globalization and technological progress are the biggest enablers, and 2007 saw the rise of a number of international agreements that allow for surveillance outside normal judicial limits.

Most notably, Privacy International named the United States as the “worst ranking country in the democratic world” in terms of statutory privacy protections and enforcement. The United States’ lack of constitutional privacy protections, plus the FTC’s inadequate attention towards privacy matters, the growth of biometric databases, and implementation of ever-more pervasive ID systems, led Privacy International to classify the US as an “endemic surveillance society” with rankings that placed it lower than both India and the Philippines.

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