Individual Privacy Under Threat In Europe and US, Report Says

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Associated Press

Individual Privacy Under Threat In Europe and US, Report Says

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LONDON: Individual privacy is under threat in the United States and across the European Union as governments introduce sweeping surveillance and information-gathering measures in the name of security and controlling borders, an international rights group has said in a report.

Greece, Romania and Canada had the best privacy records of 47 countries surveyed by Privacy International, which is based in London. Malaysia, Russia and China were ranked worst.

Both Britain and the United States fell into the lowest-performing group of "endemic surveillance societies."

"The general trend is that privacy is being extinguished in country after country," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. "Even those countries where we expected ongoing strong privacy protection, like Germany and Canada, are sinking into the mire."

In the United States, the administration of President George W. Bush has come under fire from civil liberties groups for its domestic wiretapping program, which allows monitoring, without a warrant, of international phone calls and e-mail messages involving people suspected of having terrorist links.

"The last five years has seen a litany of surveillance initiatives," Davies said.

He said little had changed since the Democrats took control of Congress a year ago.

"We would expect the cancellation of some programs, the review of others, but this hasn't occurred," Davies said.

Britain was criticized for its plans for national identity cards, a lack of government accountability and the world's largest network of surveillance cameras.

Davies said the loss earlier this year of computer disks containing personal information and bank details on 25 million people in Britain highlighted the risks of centralizing information on huge government databases.

The report, released Saturday, said privacy protection was worsening across Western Europe, although it was improving in the former Communist states of Eastern Europe.

It said concern about terrorism, immigration and border security was driving the spread of identity and fingerprinting systems, often without regard to individual privacy.

The report said the trends had been fueled by the emergence "of a profitable surveillance industry dominated by global IT companies and the creation of numerous international treaties that frequently operate outside judicial or democratic processes."

The survey considers a range of factors, including legal protection of privacy, enforcement, data sharing, the use of biometrics and the prevalence of closed circuit TV cameras.

"People shouldn't feel despondent about the results," Davies said. "Our view is that privacy-friendly systems will emerge in coming years and that consumers will soon begin to see privacy as a political issue."

© 2007 The Associated Press

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