Canadians’ privacy protection near top of list
Study puts Canada second only to Germany in ranking of 37 countries surveyed on privacy and surveillance
BY KATIE FRETLAND Associated Press and Canadian Press LONDON — Germany and Canada are the best defenders of privacy, and Malaysia and China the worst, an international rights group said in a report released Wednesday.
Britain was rated as an endemic surveillance society, at No. 33, just above Russia and Singapore on a ranking of 37 countries’ privacy protections by London-based Privacy International.
The United States did only slightly better, at No. 30, ranked between Israel and Thailand, with few safeguards and widespread surveillance, the group said.
The study ranks countries on various privacy-related issues. These include whether they have a written constitution with specific mention of privacy, the use of identity cards and biometrics, electronic surveillance including closed-circuit TV cameras, interception of communication, access of lawenforcement agencies to private data, surveillance of travel and financial transactions, and global leadership in promoting privacy.
On a scale of one to five, Canada scored three or higher in all categories.
Canada received the highest ranking of five for its legal limits on the keeping of private data. It scored four in constitutional and statutory protection, privacy enforcement, ID cards and biometrics, leadership in promoting privacy and democratic safeguards.
The watchdog organization tracks surveillance and privacy violations by governments and corporations, said director Simon Davies.
It studied the reach of governments in their use of video surveillance in private locations, workplace monitoring and identity protection, among other areas.
“The aim is not to humiliate the worst-ranking nations, but to demonstrate that it is possible to maintain a healthy respect for privacy within a secure and fully functional democracy,” said Davies.
Efforts to quash terrorism have eroded individual privacy protections since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, human rights activists say. Governments around the world have imposed security and immigration legislation that invades people’s private lives, they say.
In the U.S., President George W. Bush’s administration has come under fire for its warrantless domestic wiretapping program, which monitors international phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States involving people suspected by the government of having terrorist links.
The New York Civil Liberties Union says there has been a staggering increase in surveillance of lawful activities with little concern for the civil liberties implications, said executive director Donna Lieberman.
In 1998, the union conducted a survey of video surveillance in Manhattan and found more than 2,300 cameras in use. Last year, a similar study found more than four times that number in just 20 per cent of Manhattan, Lieberman said.
S. Arutchelvan, a Malaysian activist based in Kuala Lumpur, said privacy has not been sufficiently protected since the government stepped up efforts over the past five years to track down suspected Islamic militants, dozens of whom have been detained without trial.
“We believe there has been encroachment on privacy, such as the tapping of phones and other methods through telecommunications, in the name of fighting terrorism,” Arutchelvan said.
Chinese legal activist Xu Zhiyong said strict Internet controls have resulted in fewer protections for Internet users in China.
The Communist government has set up an extensive surveillance and filtering system to prevent Chinese people from accessing material considered obscene or politically subversive.
Lawyers and academics raised awareness of privacy violations in China after a 2003 incident in which a couple was detained in the northwestern Shaanxi province for possession of pornographic videos.
“In the past few years, authorities have been making some positive changes to respect the privacy of individuals,” Xu said.
“But when it comes to the Internet, the government feels it must supervise users and that results in less privacy protection.”