Study: U.S. among world's 'endemic-surveillance societies'

The United States fairs poorly in a recently released international report on privacy, ranking near the bottom of 47 countries surveyed and labeled an 'endemic-surveillance society' with poor privacy protection and aggressive monitoring by both the pubic and private sectors.

'The 2007 findings indicate an overall worsening of privacy protections across the world, reflecting an increase in surveillance and declining performance of privacy safeguards,' the 2007 International Privacy Ranking concludes.

The report identifies technology as one of the culprits in the worsening situation. 'The privacy trends have been fueled by the emergence of a profitable surveillance industry dominated by global [information technlogy] companies and the creation of numerous international treaties that frequently operate outside of judicial or democratic processes.'

The United Kingdom was rated the worst country in Europe and also listed as an endemic-surveillance society.

The ranking was produced by the U.S.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and the U.K.-based Privacy International, which has been doing the survey since 1997. The full report is a massive 1,100 pages with 6,000 footnotes, but a summary of findings is available.

The United States is not the worst country measured. Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, Russia, China and Malaysia fare worse. But, 'in terms of statutory protection and privacy enforcement, the U.S. is the worst-ranking country in the democratic world,' the report said.

The U.S. ranking deteriorated since 2006, going from poor to bad in spite of the Democratic success in last year's elections. 'Despite political shift in the U.S. Congress, surveillance initiatives in the U.S. continue to expand, affecting visitors and citizens alike.' The close monitoring of international travel was rated among the most intrusive in the world.
Among the findings contributing the national ranking:
  • No explicit right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution and no comprehensive privacy law.
  • The Federal Trade Commission continues to give inadequate attention to privacy issues, although it issued self-regulating privacy guidelines on advertising in 2007.
  • Real-ID and biometric identification programs continue to expand without adequate oversight, research and funding structures.
  • Extensive data-sharing programs across the federal government and with the private sector.
  • Congress approved a presidential program of spying on foreign communications over U.S. networks and now is considering immunity for telephone companies that cooperated in illegal programs.


There are some bright spots in the report. 'State-level data breach legislation has proven to be useful in identifying faults in security,' the organizations found, and 'democratic safeguards tend to be strong.' But countering these is the finding that a 'new Congress and political dynamics show that immigration and terrorism continue to leave politicians scared and without principle.'

If this all seems a bit too oppressive, take some heart in the fact that ' just across our northern border ' Canada was rated one of the best countries in terms of privacy and surveillance.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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