Governments are expanding requests for data in the name of national security and those requests are often exempt from many data protection and privacy laws, according to a report surveying laws in 13 industrialized countries.
The report, available online here, was published on Wednesday by the Center for Democracy & Technology, a digital rights group funded by the Privacy Projects, a data privacy advocacy group. The 13 countries studied in the report were Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The Patriot Act grants intelligence agencies in the U.S. vast powers to request data from companies including Google and Yahoo in the name of national security, but those agencies also report requests for phone and Internet data to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The report from the CDT shows this kind of transparency and oversight is lacking in many nations.
"Almost half the countries studied do not have provisions requiring court orders for surveillance undertaken in the name of national security or for foreign intelligence gathering," the report explained. "Even those nations with otherwise comprehensive data protection laws, access for regulatory, law enforcement and national security purposes is often excluded from such laws."
The growth of powerful digital technology and numerous nations collecting data in the name of security can have a damaging impact on international trade and diplomacy, but also on citizens' trust in businesses and governments, the CDT report said.
"International human rights law unquestionably offers the best framework for assessing surveillance laws and policies," said Leslie Harris, president of the CDT, in a release. "A global approach to this pervasive problem is essential if we are to see real progress in restoring the balance between surveillance and fundamental human rights."
The dialogue on surveillance has reached the point where U.S. politicians including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., acknowledge that every nation competes with others in digital intelligence gathering. Reports about the National Security Agency monitoring phone and Internet networks of world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel have led officials from the U.S. and the European Union to consider how to set some ground rules for international surveillance.
Diplomats from Brazil and Germany are reportedly working on a resolution at the United Nations to take the existing privacy rights recognized by that organization and apply them to digital networks.