LONDON - Individual privacy is best protected in Canada but is under threat in the United States and the European Union as governments introduce sweeping surveillance and information-gathering measures in the name of security and border control, an international rights group said in a report released Saturday.
Canada, Greece and Romania had the best privacy records of 47 countries surveyed by London-based watchdog Privacy International. Malaysia, Russia and China were ranked worst.
Both Britain and the United States fell into the lowest-performing group of "endemic surveillance societies."
"The general trend is that privacy is being extinguished in country after country," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. "Even those countries where we expected ongoing strong privacy protection, like Germany and Canada, are sinking into the mire.
"I'm afraid that Canada has kind of lost the plot a plot a little bit this year and hence its move downwards," Davies told the Canadian Press in comments about Canada.
He cites the C-I-A's accessing the banking records of Canadians through the SWIFT banking information system, the Canadian no-fly list, and the Toronto Transit Commission's installation of security cameras as examples of the erosion of privacy rights.
He also decried the increasing number of programs involving the United States, which he said unfortunately has no federal privacy law.
"What's happening, is that Canadian information, sensitive information, is flowing across the border in increasing volumes," Davies said.
"Frankly, that's the sort of situation where government should put pressure on the U.S. government to protect that information legally," he said, "But it's not doing so."
The report came two days after Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart warned in a release that 2008 will be "another challenging one for privacy in Canada."
"Heightened national security concerns, the growing business appetite for personal information and technological advances are all potent - and growing - threats to privacy rights," Stoddart said.
In the United States, President George W. Bush's administration has come under fire from civil liberties groups for its domestic wiretapping program, which allows monitoring - without a warrant - of international phone calls and e-mails involving people suspected of having terrorist links.
"The last five years has seen a litany of surveillance initiatives," Davies said.
He said little had changed since the Democrats took control of Congress a year ago.
"We would expect the cancellation of some programs, the review of others, but this hasn't occurred," Davies said.
Britain was criticized for its plans for national identity cards, a lack of government accountability and the world's largest network of surveillance cameras.
Davies said the loss earlier this year of computer disks containing personal information and bank details on 25 million people in Britain highlighted the risks centralizing information on huge government databases.
The report said privacy protection was worsening across western Europe, although it was improving in the former Communist states of eastern Europe.
It said concern about terrorism, immigration and border security was driving the spread of identity and fingerprinting systems, often without regard to individual privacy.
The report said the trends "have been fuelled by the emergency of a profitable surveillance industry dominated by global IT companies and the creation of numerous international treaties that frequently operate outside judicial or democratic processes."
The survey considers a range of factors including legal protection of privacy, enforcement, data sharing, the use of biometrics and prevalence of CCTV cameras.