Big Brother Around the World

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The Electronic Privacy Information Center and Privacy International released a report in December 2007 that finds that surveillance is up globally over 2006. On the map below black means that surveillance is "endemic." According to EPIC and PI, the only country in the world in which there are "adequate safeguards" against surveillance abuse is Greece.

surveillancemap

EPIC and PI give the United States a bad rating because, among other things, the REAL ID program imposes the equivalent of biometric national identity cards without adequate oversight, research, and funding. In addition, Congress approved a presidential program of spying on international communications without adequate oversight. The good news is that Congress has an opportunity to fix this spying mess in February.

Greece scores well because, among other things, the country has an independent data privacy authority that can fine or imprison government officials who violate privacy laws.

Whole EPIC global privacy report here. Read it and weep.

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  1. In addition, Congress approved a presidential program of spying on international communications without adequate oversight

    In most of Europe, governments can listen in on domestic and international phone calls without a warrant. How does that make the US worse than most of Europe except England?

  2. Cuz we’re cowboy Nazis.

  3. Maybe we’re worse because we say we can’t do these things and do them anyway. Hypocrisy is bad.

  4. Ive read the epic report. I would say its dubious at best. Although the information contained therein is good, the ratings are arbitrary and at least some of the information is based on questionable sources.

  5. There’s also the inappropriate conflation of information collected by government and information collected by business. Despite the hype, the threats presented are not the same (except when businesses are handing the information over to the government). Don’t know if EPIC is doing that here, but they have in the past.

  6. This is a survey of basically free countries. All of the countries in grey are not surveyed. Furhter, say what you want about the U.S., but any rating that puts the U.S. in the same catagory as China and Russia is just bunk. The amount of surveillence that goes on in this society is nil compared to what is done in China. Even among free countries, I would rather have the NSA listening to a few hundred out of a billion or so phone calls a day than be in Britian where the entire country is covered by surveilence cameras.

  7. but any rating that puts the U.S. in the same catagory as China and Russia is just bunk

    Yup. As large a problem I have with Bush’s warrantless wiretapping bullshit and the NSA, to compare what we have here to China (!) or Russia is insane.

    Reports like these can’t be taken seriously when they conflate such things. Everything on their list comes into question.

  8. I’m guessing Africa was left out because the residents are more worried about eating (or being eaten) than the odd (probably malfunctioning) camera.

  9. Going to play devil’s advocate here:

    Why is France listed among the “extensive” surveillance societies? I was under the impression that they had stringent privacy laws, and that the obsession with Sarkozy’s life aside, there is a general lack of paparazzi. You rarely, if ever, have to “show your papers”. They never card you for booze or cancer sticks. The only time I’ve ever had to show my passport is when entering and leaving the country.

    Maybe the bad score is due to the fact that they have a universal health care system (which means that the gummint organizes the health care records). In some sense that’s safer than the US, where I’m constantly filling out the same medical information every single frikkin time I see a doctor that could fall into the hands of unscrupulous actors.

    And to “pre-buttal”, I’m not saying that France is some libertopian fantasy land and privacy is sanctimonious. Just saying it’s not a police state either. Unless you’re Muslim. Okay I’ll shut up now.

  10. Why is France listed among the “extensive” surveillance societies?

    Epic used 14 criteria, and rated each country on a scale of 1 through 5 for how well they did in each criteria. It seems that the ratings were a bit more subjective than we’d like.

    Maybe the bad score is due to the fact that they have a universal health care system (which means that the gummint organizes the health care records). In some sense that’s safer than the US, where I’m constantly filling out the same medical information every single frikkin time I see a doctor that could fall into the hands of unscrupulous actors.

    Ironically, the law that reuires you to fill out multiple forms (HIPAA) probably makes the US look good under EPIC’s system because it’s a statute that protects our privacy (even if the unintended consequences are that my dentist cannot talk to my oral surgeon without a decoder ring).

    The fact that the government is holding on to your health info in many European countries doesn’t seem to affect EPIC’s rating one way or another.

    Oh well, I’m going back to reading transcripts of your phone calls for Uncle Sam.

  11. In some sense that’s safer than the US, where I’m constantly filling out the same medical information every single frikkin time I see a doctor that could fall into the hands of unscrupulous actors.

    Why is the chance that your records will fall into the wrong hands worse than the certainty that the government has all your records?

    Why assume that the government has better security for your medical records than your doctor would?

    Why assume that in a state-run healthcare system, you wouldn’t have to fill out the same frikkin’ form every time?

  12. Also not buying it.

  13. I’m not a fan of REAL-ID in any way, but what are the biometrics this report is talking about? A quick glance at both wikipedia and the National Conference of State Legislatures summary of the act mentions many things that are mostly already on my VA driver’s license, but no mention of biometrics. From the NCSL site:

    At a minimum, a state shall include the following information and features on a
    DL/ID: (1) person’s full legal name, (2) person’s date of birth, (3) person’s
    gender, (4) DL/ID number, (5) digital photograph, (6), person’s address of legal
    residence, (7) person’s signature, (8) physical security features designed to
    prevent tampering, counterfeiting or duplication for fraudulent purposes, and (9)
    a common machine-readable technology with defined data elements
    Minimum DL/ID
    Issuance Standards
    ?202(c)(1)
    ? At a minimum, a state shall require the presentation and verification of the
    following information:
    (1) A photo identity document (except that a non-photo identity document is
    acceptable if it includes both the person’s full legal name and date of birth)
    (2) Documentation showing the person’s date of birth
    (3) Proof of the person’s social security account number (SSN) or verification
    that the person is not eligible for an SSN
    (4) Documentation showing the person’s name and address of principal
    residence
    ?202(c)(3)(B) ? A state shall not accept any foreign document other than an official passport
    ?202(d)(3) ? A state shall subject each DL/ID applicant to mandatory facial image capture
    ?202(d)(6)? A state shall refuse to issue a DL/ID to a person holding a DL/ID from another
    state without confirmation that the person is terminating or has terminated the
    other state’s DL/ID
    ?202(d)(10) ? A state shall limit the period of validity of all DL/IDs that are not temporarily
    issued to a period that does not exceed eight (8) years

  14. Count me among the unconvinced. I agree with the above statements that the US should not be grouped with Russia and China here- we really don’t know what it’s like to live in a surveillance state; the Chinese do.

    Also, we should compare the level of surveillance that is indicated in this report to standards of living by country. Seriously- if you had to choose between Greece, France, and Britain, which country would you live in?

  15. Why assume that the government has better security for your medical records than your doctor would?

    Why would I assume that the dozens of different doctors and nurses I’ve seen in my lifetime (due to schizophrenic nature of our medical system) have better security over the government?

    I’m not saying the government is good, particularly the United States Federal Government, I’m just saying that the disaster in paperwork of the current system wouldn’t be a better protection against my information falling into the wrong hands, compared to say a tightly-monitored typical European government.

    I’m all for a free-market solution that would digitally encode people’s medical records that would result in less paperwork, fewer “forgotten” medical records, errors, and people’s failing memories. Some kind of common data standard, like CD-ROM, XML, WWW, etc. The current system is terrible.

  16. Also, we should compare the level of surveillance that is indicated in this report to standards of living by country.

    I agree w/ your 1st paragraph, and I am not trying to drag those ‘other’ threads into this one, but isn’t this the NYC vs Kansas (or Europe vs Somalia) comparison? In other words, isn’t level of prosperity is a separate issue from determining the level of freedom in a place?

  17. Why would I assume that the dozens of different doctors and nurses I’ve seen in my lifetime (due to schizophrenic nature of our medical system) have better security over the government?

    I dunno, experience, maybe? Have any of them ever leaked any of your records?

    You are aware, of course, that the fed regularly loses millions of people’s identity information, right?

  18. stuartl:

    and (9)
    a common machine-readable technology with defined data elements

    Maybe that’s the biometric aspect?

  19. “I dunno, experience, maybe? Have any of them ever leaked any of your records? ”

    A major health care provider in my area – Providence – managed to get my SSN stolen two years ago. Also, the company I work for – a major tech company – lost several thousand names (including mine) on tapes that fell out of the back of a pickup truck on a NY freeway.

  20. I dunno, experience, maybe? Have any of them ever leaked any of your records?

    You are aware, of course, that the fed regularly loses millions of people’s identity information, right?

    Strawman. I never advocated that the United States Federal Government take over our health care.

    And not a day goes by that I don’t see people stealing or losing critical personal information. I also own a cross-cutting shredder, and I lock down my internet connection. Do you trust every single nurse or doctor that you see in many different medical establishments with multiple copies of your medical history (due to our wacky referral system and clusterfuck records system) to do the same?

  21. Not at all surprised to see Malaysia at the bottom of this list. It’s basically an even more socially conservative version of Singapore.

  22. Frankly, I’m more worried that every minimum wage punk at every mall store is going to use my credit card info than I am about the well-paid doctor I see once every three years or so is going to tell anyone I have TMJ.

  23. (9)a common machine-readable technology with defined data elements

    Maybe that’s the biometric aspect?

    Bingo, I don’t think so. That just means that the data elements can be automatically read in a common format. For instance, the way all credit cards can be read by a single machine when you check out at the grocery store.

    As near as I can figure out, the data elements are the minimum standard described in the next section.

    Ron, can you identify what biometric data you are concerned about? I went through some of your links, and didn’t find any mention of biometric data. Identity theft, higher fees, general uselessness were mentioned as problems, but nothing on biometrics, which is one of the reasons the US gets a bad grade from EPIC.

  24. Frankly, I’m more worried that every minimum wage punk at every mall store is going to use my credit card info than I am about the well-paid doctor I see once every three years or so is going to tell anyone I have TMJ.

    What about the minimum wage punk filing away your x-ray printouts in an unsecured warehouse? That was my job three and a half years ago.

  25. Ego, he can have ’em.

    I never really understood why medical records were such a big deal, at least the ones that are not about mental health or drug/alcohol use. If I had cancer, would it matter to anyone besides me and my family? How could it be used against me?

    I’ve had someone open a credit card in my name because they stole my identity and that caused a headache and I was fortunate not to be held financially responsible, but medical info? Anyone?

  26. stuartl: Good question–my general concern is not about having a digital photo, but where you enable a ID digitally, other information will eventually creep in. First, it will be fingerprints, then iris-scans, next DNA profiles. Eventually, it will include a list of criminal convictions (if any). Having lived in Latin America where cedulas (national ID cards) are ubiquitous, I would prefer to live in a society where I don’t have to tell the police who I am whenever they ask.

    With regard to private collection of identifying information, I have no settled convictions about it yet. Many commenters are expressing skepticism with regard to the EPIC report basically because they think the EPIC over-emphasizes the private collection of information. I am actually uncomfortable with private entities collecting information for two reasons. (1) They may be forced to hand it over to the government at some later date or the government can surreptitiously mine private databases for information. (2) Also, private entities can lose the information to criminals or provide it without my permission to other private entities, such as insurance companies or the media.

    I know that there are ways to shield oneself from some snooping, e.g., PGP encryption and anonymizers, but why should the Coasean burden be on me to protect myself? What’s wrong (unlibertarian) with assigning “property” rights to individuals for their privacy which they can later choose to “sell”? Or some such idea. As I said, these are preliminary musing on my part.

  27. I never really understood why medical records were such a big deal, at least the ones that are not about mental health or drug/alcohol use. If I had cancer, would it matter to anyone besides me and my family? How could it be used against me?

    I’ve had someone open a credit card in my name because they stole my identity and that caused a headache and I was fortunate not to be held financially responsible, but medical info? Anyone?

    Maybe this marks me as a “Dale Gribble” libertarian, but I don’t trust anybody. Take the cancer example you posted above. That information gets out and you fill find it very difficult to switch insurance carriers in the future. Or say you had AIDS and worked for Mike Huckabee, if he caught wind of it, you may get fired. What if you had STDs?

  28. “Maybe this marks me as a “Dale Gribble” libertarian, but I don’t trust anybody.”

    Dale Gribble libertarian. I so like that!

  29. EPIC and PI give the United States a bad rating because, among other things, the REAL ID program imposes the equivalent of biometric national identity cards without adequate oversight, research, and funding. In addition, Congress approved a presidential program of spying on international communications without adequate oversight.

    Well, I certainly hope the town of Dillingham, AK also played into their equation.

  30. “””In most of Europe, governments can listen in on domestic and international phone calls without a warrant. How does that make the US worse than most of Europe except England?””””

    There is an element of lawfulness. Clearly Europe does not have the American Constitution to obey. So I ask, which is worse, the one that permits warrantless surveillance or the one that does not, but does it anyway?

  31. Also, we should compare the level of surveillance that is indicated in this report to standards of living by country.

    I agree w/ your 1st paragraph, and I am not trying to drag those ‘other’ threads into this one, but isn’t this the NYC vs Kansas (or Europe vs Somalia) comparison? In other words, isn’t level of prosperity is a separate issue from determining the level of freedom in a place?

    My thinking was that there seems to be a correlation between moderate to high surveillance (in this report, anyway) and a higher standard of living. I guess we could debate what ‘high standard of living’ means, but I’m referring to healthcare, overall prosperity, not getting hauled out of your house in the middle of the night and shot by somebody’s goon squad, etc. So yes, in that sense, I do believe that Europe has a higher standard of living than Somalia.

    I don’t want to confuse correlation with causation, however- especially not in this subject area. Why do wealthier countries report higher levels of surveillance, while most third-world countries don’t report anything at all? Is it simply because more information was available in the wealthier countries? The last thing we need is for someone to misinterpret a report like this and think that greater surveillance must cause greater prosperity; in truth, it seems to be the other way around.

  32. “””If I had cancer, would it matter to anyone besides me and my family? How could it be used against me?”””

    It wasn’t that long ago when people would have said the same thing about smoking.

    If you can be denied a job because smoking = expensive health care, denying someone with cancer should be a no brainer.

  33. “””Why do wealthier countries report higher levels of surveillance, while most third-world countries don’t report anything at all?”””

    Because it’s very expensive?

  34. What’s wrong (unlibertarian) with assigning “property” rights to individuals for their privacy which they can later choose to “sell”?

    Well, Ron, many folks on these boards are quite adamant that there can’t be property rights in information because it is immaterial. Just check out the innumerable posts decrying copyright and intellectual property rights.

  35. I’m as afraid of big brother as the next guy, but this map is biased. Police in Bulgaria don’t need search warrants or probable cause to invade your home and go through your things, which is far more intrusive than anything that happens in the United States, yet Bulgaria has a better rating.

  36. stuartl: Good question–my general concern is not about having a digital photo, but where you enable a ID digitally, other information will eventually creep in.

    I agree that concern is reasonable, but the EPIC report twice uses this as a reason to downgrade the US. The report doesn’t even talk about these potential issues with REAL ID as possible issues in the future (if the law is changed), it treats them as fact now. Fear that it may get worse makes as much sense as saying “It is conceivable that Greece could change its laws to tap every phone, therefore we must give it bottom marks.”

    It also dings the US for another potential problem: “Recent news regarding 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.” Possibly a legitimate fear, but is it a reality?

    Other commenters have pointed out several other factual flaws. Bottom line, this EPIC report seems to be political BS.

  37. Insurance companies can deny pre-existing condition coverage for a certain amount of time anyway, a year I believe. So I wouldn’t get coverage unless I was transferring coverage without a lapse in coverage of more than 63 days. So the whole world knowing about my cancer doesn’t change my situation. The insurance company will have access to my records anyway.

    As for the STD stigma, I get your point.

  38. The law doesn’t need to be changed for DHS to change the REAL ID requirements.

    Also, many states’ new digital photos are biometric recognition quality.

    While your DMV may not require additional biometric data, the State or Fed may already have this on-hand in a database accessible and tied to the REAL ID.

    I imagine RFID will be plugged into these in the next 5 years or so. This will allow for card-carrying individuals to be identified without their consent or knowledge.

    Ewie.

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