US ranks as "endemic surveillance society" in privacy survey

Shamefully but not surprisingly, the United States ranks among the most endemic surveillance societies, along with Russia, China, and Great Britain, on an international survey of privacy rights.

Each year since 1997, the US-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and the UK-based Privacy International have undertaken what has now become the most comprehensive survey of global privacy ever published. The Privacy & Human Rights Report surveys developments in 70 countries, assessing the state of surveillance and privacy protection.

Among Western nations, only Greece ranked as having "Adequate safeguards against abuse", with other European states and Canada earning a middling rank, "Some safeguards but weakened protections". The rankings below that are: "Systemic failure to uphold safeguards", "Extensive surveillance societies", and at the bottom, "Endemic surveillance societies".

The report lists the following bullet points to explain the dismal ranking of the U.S.:

  • No right to privacy in constitution, though search and seizure protections exist in 4th Amendment
  • No comprehensive privacy law
  • FTC continues to give inadequate attention to privacy issues
  • REAL-ID and biometric identification programs continue to spread without adequate oversight, research, and funding structures
  • Extensive data-sharing programs across federal government and with private sector
  • Spreading use of CCTV
  • Congress approved presidential program of spying on foreign communications over U.S. networks, e.g. Gmail, Hotmail, etc.
  • Immunity for telephone companies, while government claims secrecy, thus barring any legal action
  • No data retention law as yet, but equally no data protection law
  • World leading in border surveillance, mandating trans-border data flows
  • Weak protections of financial and medical privacy
  • Plans spread for 'rings of steel' around cities to monitor movements of individuals
  • Immigration and terrorism continue to leave politicians scared and without principle
  • Lack of action on data breach legislation on the federal level while REAL-ID is still compelled upon states
  • FBI biometric database raises particular concerns as this could lead to the largest database of biometrics around the world that is not protected by strong privacy law

This could change, if our society and our government changed its outlook on privacy and transparency. This report is a stark reminder of how much needs to change, and soon.