Archive for Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Privacy a casualty of 9-11 worldwide

September 4, 2002


— Governments worldwide have made it easier for authorities to augment citizen databases and eavesdrop on telephone and online conversations in order to fight terror, according to a survey of privacy regulations released Tuesday.

The report, written by privacy activists Electronic Privacy Information Center and Privacy International, shows the United States was not alone in passing new laws that value increased security over personal privacy.

"It's a general theme toward total identification," said Sarah Andrews, an author of the report. "When you're outside in public or when you're online, you can be identified."

That dismays privacy groups, who worry about free speech restrictions and abuses of power. They have fought new laws like the U.S. anti-terror legislation that lowered the bar on surveillance requirements by authorities.

"They haven't been backed up by evidence that law enforcement and intelligence agencies were hampered before because they didn't have these powers," Andrews said.

Stewart Baker, a former general counsel for the National Security Agency, said increased data sharing might have helped identify the Sept. 11 hijackers.

He said many surveillance proposals were already moving toward passage, and speeded up by legitimized fears of a terrorist threat.

"They're really complaining about changes in the world rather than changes in the law," said Baker, now a lawyer with Steptoe & Johnson in Washington.

In addition to the United States, the report listed new anti-terrorism legislation in Australia, Austria, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Singapore and Sweden.

In June, the European Union allowed its member states to require that Internet providers retain traffic and location data of all people using any electronic communications device, like mobile phones, faxes, e-mails, chat rooms or the Internet.

The Russian internal security service recently tried to order all Internet providers to install surveillance software, at the company's cost, so that police could perform instant searches without a warrant. After an Internet company sued, a Russian court decided the rule was unconstitutional.

There also is increased interest in personal surveillance through biometric technology and spy cameras. The report lists the use of cameras at the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., to search for suspected terrorists. Perhaps no country likes such cameras more than Britain, where an estimated 1.5 million cameras watch public streets and parks.

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