The Global Reach of Privacy Invasion

Article excerpt

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, civil liberties have been compromised not only in the United States but in countries all over the world. New anti-terrorism laws, particularly those which expand the surveillance authority of the state, now threaten political freedom on every continent. Furthermore, efforts to reverse this trend are complicated by the fact that most of what is going on is generally unknown to the citizens of each affected nation.

The full scope of this problem was brought to light on September 3, 2002, when the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), in association with Privacy International (PI), released the fifth annual privacy and human rights report. The study, entitled Privacy and Human Rights: An International Survey of Privacy Laws and Developments, reveals the current state of privacy in over fifty countries, including the United States. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC, links cause and effect in the foreword: "In the rush to strengthen national security and to reduce the risk of future terrorist acts, governments around the world turned to legal authority and new technology to extend control over individuals." And they did so without adequately considering the long-term impact on democratic freedoms.

However, the panic hasn't been limited to individual nations alone. International bodies have gotten into the act--and indeed have been among the first to do so. The United Nations took immediate action right after the attacks and adopted on September 12, 2001, UN Resolution 1368 that calls for increased cooperation between countries to suppress and prevent terrorism. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe issued a similar declaration, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization reasserted its own Article 5, which declares that an attack on any NATO nation constitutes an attack on all.

Then on September 26, 2001, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called for the ratification by individual countries of existing antiterrorist conventions. This included the lifting of caveats in these agreements and the extension of police activity to cover "terrorist messages and the decoding thereof." The European Union, in a report on October 17, 2001, proposed a common European arrest warrant, a common framework for antiterrorist laws, increased international cooperation among police and intelligence authorities, and a greater capability for freezing assets and preventing money laundering. Along these latter lines, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development together with the G-7, consisting of the world's seven largest industrial market economies, and European Commission called for an extension of its mandate to act against terrorist financing. Looking at the Internet, the European Commission went so far as to consider a requirement that every European Union member nation pass laws making cyber attacks a terrorist offense.

All of these calls by international bodies for increased cooperation and stiffer laws gave various governments the momentum to quickly develop new antiterrorist legislation. The Privacy and Human Rights report chronicles the early developments:

   New Zealand minimized public consultation on a proposed law to freeze the 
   financial assets of suspected terrorists because the government felt it was 
   bound by United Nations Security Council resolutions. France expanded 
   police powers to search private property without warrants. Germany reduced 
   authorization restraints on interception of communications and increased 
   data sharing between law enforcement and national security agencies. 
   Australia and Canada both introduced laws to redefine terrorist activity 
   and to grant powers of [domestic] surveillance to national security 
   agencies.... India passed a law to allow authorities to detain suspects 
   without trial, conduct increased wiretapping, and seize funds and property. …