Published on Thursday, December 5, 2002 by OneWorld.net
Privacy Under Greater Threat after 9/11: Report
In a bid to strengthen national security post September 11, both the West and some Asian countries, have introduced measures that threaten individual privacy, a new report has said.
Governments in both the developing and the developed worlds are extending control over individuals to reduce the risks of terrorist attacks, said the annual "Privacy and Human Rights survey report" by Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a public interest research organization in Washington, and Privacy International, a London-based human rights body.
"It may take some years to fully evaluate the effects of September 11th 2001 on privacy and civil liberties," the report said. "Shortly after the events of that day, previous proposals were reintroduced, and new policies with similar objectives were drafted to extend police surveillance authority," it said.
The Privacy and Human Rights survey is an annual exercise documenting measures that safeguard or threaten privacy in the world. The 2002 report, which deals with the impact of measures on privacy in over 50 countries, focuses on the effects of September 11, 2001, on privacy and civil liberties.
"It continues to be our hope that a careful examination of how countries around the world respond to new challenges, even those as horrific as September 11, will enable the safeguarding of privacy in the years ahead," said EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg in a foreword to the report.
Privacy, the report stressed, was a fundamental human right. "It underpins human dignity and other values such as freedom of association and freedom of speech. It has become one of the most important human rights of the modern age... Privacy protection is frequently seen as a way of drawing the line at how far society can intrude into a person's affairs," it said.
Since September 11, anti-terrorism measures have been introduced in western countries such as Canada, Denmark, France, Australia, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, the United States and Sweden. In Asia, similar measures were taken in India and Singapore, the report stated.
"Privacy has been attacked in various countries in different ways," Privacy International director Simon Davies told OneWorld Thursday. He pointed out that in some countries such as the United States, while laws were passed that impinged on privacy, there were constitutional safeguards to protect privacy as well.
Davies said that, on the basis of the equation between constitutional safeguards and invasive law, the countries that had lost the most privacy rights were the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
Australia and Canada introduced laws to redefine terrorist activity and to grant powers of surveillance to their national security agencies. India passed an anti-terrorism law last year that allowed, among other things, security forces to detain suspects without a trial.
In the United Kingdom, a law was passed in violation of existing rules giving confidentiality to collection data that allowed the authorities to access private data for security reasons. In the United States, several laws were passed, including one that increased surveillance powers.
"Many of these proposals have had far-reaching consequences for the protection of privacy," the report said, adding that many more countries were contemplating similar laws and measures. "New policies are being proposed every week with the goal of investigating, preventing, and suppressing terrorist activity," it said.
Restrictions were imposed in many countries, including members of the European Union, on communications to enable governments to keep tabs on people using telephones, mobiles or the Internet. In June 2002, the European Union (EU) passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Directive. It allowed EU member to enact laws requiring Internet Service Providers, and other telecommunications operators, to retain the traffic and location data from mobile phones, text messaging, land-line telephones, faxes, e-mails and so on.
Belgium, France, Spain and the United Kingdom had already introduced measures on accessing telecommunication data, while similar proposals were pending in the Netherlands and in New Zealand. In China, the authorities could monitor all international connections and identify individual users and content.
Surveillance was also conducted with the use of cameras or audio bugs, which were sold in millions every year in Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Japan. The bugs, used in many Asian countries to keep a check on industrial espionage, were also planted in homes or in offices.
The report said that surveillance cameras were increasingly being used to monitor public and private spaces throughout the world. The country leading in this was the United Kingdom, which had some 1.5 million cameras watching public space. Surveillance of public spaces had grown "markedly" in the United States and Australia, it said.
"Several governments are now considering using surveillance systems as an anti-terrorism tool," it said. The report pointed out that the cameras were being used in cities in the same way electricity and telephone lines were in the first half of the last century.
The 2002 report, however, found that efforts to pass new data protection laws were continuing in Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America. "Important debates are also taking place around the world concerning the future of new technologies for identification and surveillance," it said.
Copyright 2002 OneWorld.net