US and UK rank poorly as global privacy is being eroded

A London-based human rights watchdog group on surveillance and privacy has released its National Privacy Ranking for 2007, ranking the U.S, Russia, China and much of Southeast Asia at the bottom.

Privacy International ranked Greece, Romania and Canada as leaders in protecting their citizens’ privacy.

The group assesses and ranks 14 criteria: Constitutional protection, statutory protection, privacy enforcement, identity cards and biometrics, data sharing, visual surveillance, communication interception, communication data retention, government access to data, workplace monitoring, surveillance of medical, financial and movement, border and trans-border issues, leadership, and democratic safeguards.

This year’s results indicated a general worsening of worldwide privacy standards, with an overall increase in surveillance attributable to border control and immigration issues.

The United States was summarized by the group as being the worst ranking country in the democratic world in terms of statutory protections and privacy enforcement. In short, this means that laws protecting Americans’ medical, workplace, and financial records from government and corporate surveillance are sorely lacking, and a regulatory body governing infractions of these rights is needed.

Privacy International says surveillance initiatives in the country continue to expand despite political shifts in Congress, and the United States has deteriorated into an “Endemic Surveillance Society.” The United Kingdom has also fallen into this category, which includes Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, Russia, China, and Malaysia.

The only country on the list that enjoyed a marked improvement was the Republic of Slovenia, an EU member since 2004. The young country has two different rights to privacy detailed in its 1991 constitution, the Personal Data Protection Act which regulates both data and video surveillance, a data protection authority, regulated biometrics, and laws mandating anonymous location data.