Hi-tech governments growing keener on snooping, says report

Out-Law News | 10 Mar 2010 | 4:05 pm | 1 min. read

Western industrial countries are becoming more willing to spy on their citizens, according to an analysis of snooping that says that the UK is sixth in a world ranking for electronic state surveillance.

Privacy technology company CryptoHippie has produced its second annual report on surveillance trends and says in it that countries that previously showed restraint in their monitoring of individuals have lost some of that self-control.

"When we produced our first Electronic Police State report, the top ten nations were of two types: those that had the will to spy on every citizen, but lacked ability [and] those who had the ability, but were restrained in will," it said in its 2010 report. "This is changing: the able have become willing and their traditional restraints have failed."

"The United States, with the UK and France close behind, have now caught up with Russia and are gaining on China, North Korea and Belarus," it said.

"The UK is aggressively building the world of 1984 in the name of stopping 'anti-social' activities. Their populace seems unable or unwilling to restrain the government," it said.

The UK slipped one place in the rankings, though. Where it was fifth in last year's report, it is now sixth, having swapped places with the US.

CryptoHippie said that the activity that it monitored and ranked in its report was quite specific: activity that made a country an electronic police state.

"In an Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording, every email sent, every Internet site surfed, every post made, every check written, every credit card swipe, every cell phone ping… are all criminal evidence, and all are held in searchable databases," it said. "The individual can be prosecuted whenever the government wishes."

"Long-term, the Electronic Police State destroys free speech, the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, and other liberties. Worse, it does so in a way that is difficult to identify," said the report.

The company said that its report did not measure police or government censorship of internet use or traffic, or corruption. It said that neither did it measure electronic evidence gathering that was conducted with court-issued warrants.

The report did measure factors such as whether the state could search and record financial transactions; whether it could gag the subjects of surveillance; whether it outlawed cryptography; whether governments forced internet service providers (ISPs) to store data for them; whether they stored mobile phone records; and whether covert hacking was carried out.

The UK scored high for electronic police state functioning in relation the tracking of financial activity; the gagging of surveillance subjects; phone data storage; and in the erosion of a barrier between police and intelligence services.

France and Germany were also in the report's top 10, while the top three consisted of North Korea, China and Belarus.

The countries least like electronic police states were Philippines, Brazil, Romania and Thailand.