Hot Air on the Surveillance Industry from the UK

Privacy International has produced a much-needed survey of the state of the surveillance industry, following its other excellent report on the use of development aid to push surveillance technologies on developing countries. The British government’s response, voiced by the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls, Sir John Stanley,  has been a typically limp one, largely concerned with the possibility of such systems being sold to ‘authoritarian regimes’ yet blustered and talked of ‘grey areas’ when it came to Britain’s responsibility for this trade.

But this is all way too little too late. I warned of the danger of the increased technological capabilities and decreasing costs of ‘surveillance-in-a-box’ systems as far back as 2008 (see my post here which refers to that). Instead of taking horizon-scanning and pre-emptive action to limit this, Britain, the USA and many other states have encouraged this trade with state aid – as they have with military and security industries more broadly – and, not least, encouraged the use of surveillance on a global scale themselves. Their own extensive breaches of human rights through programs like PRISM and TEMPEST give them no real moral high ground to talk about what authoritarian regimes might do, when they are already pursuing the same actions.

Brazil as surveillance society? Privacy International´s view (1)

Every year, Privacy International publishes a kind of index of privacy. The methodology is qualitative and has a strong element of subjectivity based on PI´s campaigning objectives (for example my colleague, Minas Samatas, finds their assessment of Greece as the best country in Europe in this regard, ludicrous). There are also problems with the equivalence of the all the different categories, both in terms of whether all the surveillance identified is even ethically ´bad´ anyway, and in the adding up of categories to conclude that you can lump together the USA, UK, Russia and China. However, it remains a good focus for discussion and no-one else does anything similar.

Let´s see what they concluded about Brazil. Brazil ends up in the 3rd worst category overall, with a ´systematic failure to uphold safeguards´. In particular, PI condemned:

  • the role of the courts in weakening constitutional rights of data protection (something I will be coming back to next week);
  • the lack of a privacy law;
  • the lack of habeus data provisions;
  • the lack of a regulatory of personal data and privacy;
  • an overly simplistic test for the legailty of communications interception;
  • the new ID law;
  • recent Youtube censorship;
  • increasing workplace surveillance, which has only been partially addressed by the courts;
  • widepsread private interception of intenet and e-mail traffic;
  • that fact that ISPs are required to keep and hand over traffic data to police;
  • the extensive road transport surveillance using RFID.

However they also noted:

  • the protection of the right to privacy of children under a 1990 law; and
  • the fact that bank records are protected under the constitution, and warrants are required to seize them

I will be going through their country in report in more detail next week and using this as one of the bases for the questions I will ask NGO representatives and parliamentarians in the weeks after wards.