Surveillance on the rise

The year 2007 saw the further rise of surveillance and the decline of privacy worldwide. This is the main result of the recent Privacy & Human Rights Report by the US-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and the UK-based Privacy International. The survey included 47 countries, compared to 37 countries in the previous year. Some of the findings were to be expected, others are rather surprising.

The tightening of immigration controls in many countries, particularly the United States, were accompanied by the implementation of databases, identity and fingerprinting systems. In addition, the 2007 rankings show an increasing trend among governments to archive data on the geographic, communications and financial records of their citizens and residents.

The lowest ranking among all surveyed countries continue to be Malaysia, Russia and China. 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 category of endemic surveillance.

In view of the ongoing fight against terrorism this is no surprise. More surprising, however, is that major European countries with a traditionally high level of privacy protection rank among those who have significantly increased surveillance and data collection.

The most telling example of this trend is Germany: in the 2007 rankings, Germany dropped from 1st to 7th place behind Portugal and Slovenia. The highest-ranking country in terms of privacy protection is now Greece, followed by Romania and Canada. The worst ranking EU country is the United Kingdom, which again fell into the “black” category of endemic surveillance along with Russia and Singapore.

There is not much hope that 2008 will be better in terms of privacy protection. Especially in Germany, a further decay of privacy protection is already on the way. The discussion in democratic countries will continue on how much the privacy and freedom rights of citizens should be limited in order to protect a democratic society whose main purpose is the protection of each citizen’s rights.

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