Is Privacy Dying in the United States? Recent Report Says U.S. One of the Worst in the World

Americans have always been defined by their robust views of individual autonomy and privacy. However, in the last ten years, privacy has suffered massive reductions in the United States due to both governmental and private surveillance, data mining, and searches. Now an international privacy groups ranks for the United States and England as some of the worst “endemic surveillance societies.”

Privacy International ranks Greece, Romania and Canada had the best privacy records of 47 countries surveyed with Malaysia, Russia and China were ranked worst.

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International notes that the situation in the United States has not changed under Democratic control of Congress, which continues to give mere lip service to the protection of privacy.

The fact is that we are changing into a fishbowl society. Civil liberty-minded citizens may recall the president’s plan to create the Total Information Awareness program, a massive databank with the ability to follow citizens in real time by their check-card purchases, bank transactions, medical bills and other electronic means.

It is all part of this administration’s insatiable desire for information. With regard to its own conduct and information, the administration has fought against the notion of transparency – from refusing to disclose meetings with lobbyists, to denying Congress information needed for oversight, to threatening journalists with prosecution for revealing secret programs such as the NSA domestic surveillance program.

Yet, when it comes to citizens, the administration demands total transparency to allow it to monitor everyday transactions and conduct.

It is perhaps the greatest danger that can face a free society: a government cloaked in secrecy with total information on its citizens.

For most of our history, one of the greatest protections for civil liberties has been the practical inability of the government to surveil a large number of citizens at one time. In the last couple of decades, those technological barriers have fallen away.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court has removed legal barriers to the government’s acquisition of personal information by allowing it to obtain the records of banks, telephone companies and other businesses without a warrant. This combination of legal and technological changes has laid the foundation for a fishbowl society in which citizens can be objects of continual surveillance.

Americans have long been defined by our privacy values. We have fiercely defended what Justice Louis Brandeis called “our right to be left alone.” It is only in the assurance of privacy that free thoughts and free exercise of rights can be truly exercised. Such privacy evaporates with doubt; it is why the Constitution seeks to avoid the chilling effect of uncertainty in government searches and seizures.

Yet, the problem has been that these programs have been revealed and analyzed in isolation. Each insular program has been defended in insular terms. It is just domestic telephone numbers or just international transactions. Citizens have become accustomed to a steady stream of secret programs and new forms of government monitoring. It is something that our fiercely independent ancestors would have never imagined.

Privacy is dying in America – not with a fight but a yawn.

For the latest study on privacy, click here

12 thoughts on “Is Privacy Dying in the United States? Recent Report Says U.S. One of the Worst in the World”

  1. RC and Patty, and Professor Turley too, yes, a “healthy, prosperous and Happy New Year”!

    New Years Resolutions for the White House.

    Our president writes them down as a blessed mood of contrition and reform settles on him with the bright New Year light coming in through the east window.

    “I will work with Congress.

    I will instruct my subordinates to respond to Congressional subpoenas and requests for testimony.

    I will cease immediately all signing statements.

    I will instruct the minority leaders to cease all obstructive tactics immediately and drop all future threats of filibuster.

    I will put away my veto pen and stop all threats of veto.

    I will cease all recess appointments of highly controversial candidates.

    I will cease insisting on the confirmation of manifestly unqualified appointments to the federal bench.

    I will order the DOJ to stop all of its classified investigations of majority party elected representatives. Likewise, what dossiers that have been assembled will be destroyed and the relevant parties informed.

    I will turn over all evidentiary materials I have and instruct the OVP likewise, that Congress has requested in its various investigations.”

    Whew, that was hard work, the president muses although an unaccustomed glow of virtue fills him with pride, I guess I’ll take a short break and then get to work on my next list:

    I will honor the Constitutional Oath I took.

  2. Yes, Patty, I’m in. Biscotti per tutto! A healthy, properous and Happy New Year to all.

  3. Just a note to thank everyone for a wonderful year and the best wishes for a great 2008! You have made these first few months on the blog a wonderful experience. I hope that 2008 will see true promise for the return of civil liberties and civility in our society. Let’s call it a resolution based on hope over experience. Nevertheless, this country has survived worst periods and what does not kill this Republic tends to make it stronger.

    Thanks for your terrific observations and sharing your time with us on this blog.

    Happy New Year to all!

  4. Well, there is the Skull and Bones society, but they rarely serve biscotti after an incident in 1972 when S&B member G.W. Bush thought they were going to eat one of the Italian waiters.

  5. Happy New Year et al!

    Jonathan, I think you should form a Secret Turley Society complete with
    elaborate Penguin stick pins presented upon induction.

    And at meetings, you could feature special “neminem” biscotti with grappa, and espresso for the light menu.

    What do you think, DW? You in? RC?

  6. “It is perhaps the greatest danger that can face a free society: a government cloaked in secrecy with total information on its citizens.” –Jonathan Turley

    You may have just penned a phrase that will go into history books and be inscribed on some capitol building someday. Thank you.

    Perhaps a constitutional amendment is now urgent: one that deals with individual privacy and governmental transparency.

    “Ignorantia iuris neminem excusat” But with so many executive orders being classified and with so much of the laws based on classified briefings, who, any longer, even in Congress, can say they know what the laws of the lands are or on what they are based?

  7. Unfortunately, Democratic control of Congress has not led to any meaningful effort to resolve civil liberties. The problem is that the two parties appear to see no advantage (and some risk) to actually restoring privacy rights and civil liberties — as opposed to giving merely rhetorical support.

  8. 4 years, it will take a full four years.

    For the next administration, if they have the will, to undo the damage this one did.

  9. Most certainly what we once knew as our right(s) to an amount of privacy as recently as 2000 has deteriorated dramatically. As bothersome as that fact might be, the truly frightening things are the rapidity with which it’s happened and the equally frightening lack of outrage it’s received. In just over seven years we’ve allowed ourselves to be fearmongered and manipulated by our government and our fellow citizens into accepting, not only less privacy than we used to enjoy, but less than many of our allies still offer their citizens who used to envy us Americans.

    I haven’t heard or read NEARLY enough from the Presidential hopefuls on either side that would lead me to believe any of them intends to rectify this un-American situation. I’d like to hear from others here that someone running for President is willing to reverse this trend. I’d like to hear that some candidate mentions either the repeal, revision or lapsing of the Patriots Act, the restoration of habeus corpus, posse comitatus and others of our rights and a repudiation of signing statements and the power grab of our pseudo-imperial President.

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