Canada’s not-nearly-as-bad-as-the-U.S. surveillance society

2007 privacy rankings - map 

 2007 Privacy rankings - legend

The map and legend shown above are from Privacy International’s latest report on the state of surveillance and privacy protection in 47 countries. As Scott Horton has pointed out, the United States now ranks with Russia and China (along with camera-on-every-corner Britain) as “endemic surveillance societies”. Canada, by greyish contrast, ranks below “adequate” in its privacy protections, but is thankfully three colour bars above the U.S. level — though as rumours have it, the Canadian government doesn’t have to violate its citizen’s privacy rights directly if it can ask U.S. intelligence to provide the required information via its own monitoring of Canadian communications. The report helpfully provides highlights for each of the countries in the study, so here’s how Canada and the U.S. compare (note that some bullet points are more important than others):

CANADA

  • Privacy not mentioned in Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but courts have recognised the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy
  • Statutory rules at the federal level (public and private sectors) and provincial laws apply to sectors and governments
  • Federal commission is widely recognised as lacking in powers such as order-marking powers, and ability to regulate trans-border data flows
  • Variety of provincial privacy commissioners have made privacy-enhancing decisions and taken cases through the courts over the past year (particularly Ontario)
  • Court orders required for interception and there is no reasonable alternative method of investigation
  • Video surveillance is spreading despite guidelines from privacy commissioners
  • Highly controversial no-fly list, lacking legal mandate
  • Continues to threaten new policy on online surveillance
  • Increased calls for biometric documents to cater for U.S. pressure, while plans are still unclear for biometric passports

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

  • No right to privacy in constitution, though search and seizure protections exist in 4th Amendment; case law on government searches has considered new technology
  • No comprehensive privacy law, many sectoral laws; though tort of privacy
  • FTC continues to give inadequate attention to privacy issues, though issued self-regulating privacy guidelines on advertising in 2007
  • State-level data breach legislation has proven to be useful in identifying faults in security
  • REAL-ID and biometric identification programs continue to spread without adequate oversight, research, and funding structures
  • Extensive data-sharing programs across federal government and with private sector
  • Spreading use of CCTV
  • Congress approved presidential program of spying on foreign communications over U.S. networks, e.g. Gmail, Hotmail, etc.; and now considering immunity for telephone companies, while government claims secrecy, thus barring any legal action
  • No data retention law as yet, but equally no data protection law
  • World leading in border surveillance, mandating trans-border data flows
  • Weak protections of financial and medical privacy; plans spread for ‘rings of steel’ around cities to monitor movements of individuals
  • Democratic safeguards tend to be strong but new Congress and political dynamics show that immigration and terrorism continue to leave politicians scared and without principle
  • Lack of action on data breach legislation on the federal level while REAL-ID is still compelled upon states has shown that states can make informed decisions
  • 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

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