Privacy International's 2007 Report

The 2007 International Privacy Ranking.

Canada comes in first.

Individual privacy is best protected in Canada but 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.”

EDITED TO ADD (1/10): Actually, Canada comes in second.

Posted on January 10, 2008 at 6:01 AM33 Comments


Angelo January 10, 2008 7:15 AM

I’m confused. The first link shows Greece having the highest ranking, at 3.1, with Canada tied with Romania and Hungary at 2.9 — how exactly is G&M translating this to “Canada leads world”?


Hugo January 10, 2008 7:19 AM

The biggest problem is that we all accept it. Your privacy is taken from you slowly bit by bit. But if the changes of the last 5 or 10 years would have been done in 1 day, you probably would be very angry (or scared).

Ed T. January 10, 2008 8:29 AM

“Can someone please articulate why diminishing privacy is bad for society?”

Because people who have access to such information possess incredible power. Because absolute power corrupts, absolutely. Because such corruption reduces the confidence people MUST have in their government, as well as in themselves. Because, as people are cowed, they cease being sovereign, instead becoming sheep.


Scared January 10, 2008 8:38 AM

Can someone please articulate why diminishing privacy is bad for society?

I’ll take this question at face value,and answer it thusly:

Because it protects small people like myself from “big” people in power.

Could be they do not approve of my political opinions;

or perhaps my child rearing practices (I allow my 6 year old to sleep in the upper bunk, which is a blatant violation of “law” passed by local safety nazis);

or perhaps my pork eating habits do not conform to the standard mandated by healthy diet nazis (soon to come in the interest of keeping national health plan within its budget);

conceivably, my sexual proclivities could be deviant in the fine state of Alabama (we’d catch all those sodomites if we had cameras in bedrooms, you know).

The list is endless. Whether it is tyranny of a junta or democratically elected mob – there will always be people who want to punish me for what I do in the privacy of my home, or the privacy of my mind. The only way for me to escape it for them not to know. Other people not knowing certain things about me is defined as privacy.

Muffin January 10, 2008 8:42 AM

Mitch: good point. While we’re at it, can anyone articulate why totalitarianism, fascism and dictatorships are bad for society? If the secret police is coming for you, you must’ve done something; good people haven’t got anything to hide. Oder bist du etwa ein Volksschädling?

Anonymous Coward January 10, 2008 8:54 AM

@ Mitch

ooh, you asked for it…

Diminishing privacy is bad for society because when one’s business is their own, they are free to take chances and explore new things that at that moment in time may not be considered politically correct or just plain odd. The freedom to explore ideas on or outside of the fringes of what “society” considers acceptable without the prying eyes of one’s neighbors or government watching and commenting on every step is a great enabler of progress and creativity. Think of the great inventors and artists who toiled away in labs and studios creating things that people would have considered heretical (Galileo), crazy (the Wright Bros.), just plain weird (Linus Torvaldes) or criminal (Thomas Jefferson) until they were ultimately proven brilliant.

Where there is no privacy, there cannot be freedom. Private places allow people to turn free thought into action. How free is someone walking the streets of London compared to when they are in their own home? Innovation rarely happens in public because the public stage is a platform for conformity.

As our privacy is gradually eroded, then the places that we are free are also reduced. If we don’t have privacy in the cities, or small towns, or the internet, or on our home computers, or in our offices, or homes… then how can we consider ourselves free? Because no one cares what we are doing? If no one cares what you’re doing, then you aren’t doing anything worthwhile anyway and you don’t need freedom for that. Freedom is not something that’s needed to do things that are socially acceptable. Concepts of social acceptability change over time, but only if people are allowed to push the boundaries.

aikimark January 10, 2008 8:56 AM


Canada included themselves in the top eschelon of countries:

“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.”

Vince January 10, 2008 8:59 AM

Maybe the question of Mitch is not totally irrelevant. First, diminishing privacy is not bad for society. Actually it may even be good for society, but it’s catastrophic for individuals. The collateral damages may concern only a small part of individuals, so society won’t really be affected, however these damages will be dramatic for individuals.
Moreover this question is recurrent. When I try to convince people that they should care about privacy ( I focus on search engine), most of them think that privacy is not important because they are not involved in illegal stuff. Privacy only matters when it is totally lost, so it is hard to warn people.

NFG January 10, 2008 9:03 AM

I used to ask why privacy was important too. I didn’t think I was doing anything I was ashamed of, and I didn’t care who knew what I was doing.

The problem, I later worked out, was that you couldn’t know what those with your info would do with it. Malicious minds can irritate you with a little bit of information, but they can absolutely ruin you with a LOT.

I stand by my decisions and actions, but who gets to examine them is for me to decide.

adg January 10, 2008 9:16 AM

Greece comes in first scoring 3.1.
Canada is well-placed with a fair 2.9, though losing the ranking points earned in the last year results.

Someone Else January 10, 2008 9:42 AM

Ask me that after you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness.

I find Canada ranking so high just a tad ironic. I got in trouble back in the 90s when I worked for a Canadian company. During a discussion of CALEA I started talking about the RCMP monitoring of Canadians on the products my company built. I was told it shouldn’t be discussed so openly even inside the company though it was common knowledge inside the company. The fact is that Canada has had the equivalent of CALEA (although I’m not sure how much of the CA part) since the 1970s. Are the countries that ranked higher really better at privacy or just better at hiding their invasions of privacy?

greg January 10, 2008 10:07 AM

Mitch has a valid point.

There is another more important point. Most of you agree that you can’t legislate DRM to work. Why then do you think you can legislate Privacy to work?

Example: Some teenagers got into trouble because they posted pictures of them selfs braking the law on Facebook. Well what if it wasn’t them taking the photos and doing the posting? What if it was a friend who did even know there was a problem (say underage in a bar) and posted and linked the picture.

Its not just corporations and governments. Its your own computer and your friends that are all collecting data on you, even if its just a harmless photo. Much of this stuff may even be when you are in public places where there is no expectation of privacy (with a 2nd girlfriend at the pub).

Its not easy to solve, and Laws won’t change anything much. (Just like DRM)

When we get to the fact that some people won’t follow the law anyway…….

lowkey January 10, 2008 10:13 AM

Quick question: How is Canada first when they were rated 2.9 and Greece was rated 3.1?

Greece is first. Canada, Romania and Hungary are tied for second.

It’s called math people!

nobody January 10, 2008 10:21 AM

The right question to ask is not “What does it matter I do not have to hide anything” as some sheep will tell you (mostly white male sheep in their 50’s).
The right question to ask is “Who protects me against rogue elements in our government and corporate headquarters”.

What was predicted by so called pessimists in the past is coming real day by day, that is if something is available to suppress society it WILL get used to do just that.

Buddha Bubba January 10, 2008 10:31 AM

“Go back to bed, America. Your government has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control again. Here. Here’s American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up. Go back to bed, America. Here is American Gladiators. Here is 56 channels of it! Watch these pituitary retards bang their fucking skulls together and congratulate you on living in the land of freedom. Here you go, America! You are free to do what we tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!” – Bill Hicks

SumDumGuy January 10, 2008 10:51 AM

Loss of privacy is bad for society too. The simplest example is that of a political challenger to the status quo. All it takes is some sort of legal, but publicly embarrassing information (like a record of him purchasing condoms when his family medical records show that his wife has had her tubes tied) to be exposed by the incumbent politicians and the challenger is eliminated, and the status quo maintained.

You can’t reasonably enforce privacy laws on individuals like people taking pictures at a bar. But you can enforce them on large organizations and it is the large organizations abuse of privacy that is the largest threat.

John January 10, 2008 11:20 AM

Another aspect that hasn’t been hit on here in terms of why privacy is important is archival of data. Just because something you’re doing today is ‘ok’ doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. To the gentleman who made the comment about his sexual proclivities being illegal in Alabama – perhaps they aren’t today, but if they’re made illegal next week, you could very well have major problems.

Also, remember – the same systems put in place by your allies can (and will) be used by your enemies, should they come to power.

Mitch January 10, 2008 11:49 AM

I’m from the UK, supposedly ranking not to high in this list. But I’ve never had any problems and nor have the majority of the nation. Is this fear of losing privacy and the world collapsing all security theatre?

Can anyone point out national/large-scale personal repurcussions that have taken place in any country due to diminished privacy?

Or is this a just theoretical arguement (but not necessarily incorrect)?

Mitch January 10, 2008 11:56 AM

BTW, I am just playing devil’s advocate. I get asked these questions by a lot of people so would like to hear what you (the experts and better read than me) have to say.

Thanks in advance.

old guy January 10, 2008 12:28 PM

…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I am most happy with anonomity and privacy. Corporations and the most touted democracy in the world are telling me that I cannot be happy.

Anonymous Coward January 10, 2008 1:30 PM

@ Mitch

“Can anyone point out national/large-scale personal repercussions that have taken place in any country due to diminished privacy?”

Rather than debating whether diminishing privacy is good or bad for society, why not attempt to frame the issue by defining privacy itself. Privacy can be defined as “the state of being private” and in its broadest sense, the word private is best defined as “describing that which is not intended to be public.” Intention, implies a personal preference. Therefore, privacy can describe anything an individual does not want to become public knowledge. Can you think of an instance where people have been hurt because private matters became public (and likely misunderstood?)

Let’s start a list:

  • Salem Witch Trials (USA)
  • McCarthy hearings (USA)
  • The Holocaust (Europe)
  • Hundred Flowers (China)

doru January 10, 2008 1:53 PM

I am a Romanian currently living in France. As far as I can judge
(wrt. Romania, at least), the study is superficial at best (and at
times outright wrong).

point 4 of the rationale for Romania: “Interception is authorised by
General Prosecutor of the Office related to the Supreme Court…” is
pure fabulation. As in most civilized countries, interception is
requested by a prosecutor and authorized by a judge, at least
according to standard criminal law (this is the good point).

The bad point comes in the form of national security law,
authorizing the secret services to use wiretaps without judicial
oversight. This led to a public outcry, not to mention a
condemnation by the European Court of Human Rights. However, the law
still stands. Generally speaking, supervision of the secret services
by legislative and executive powers is a delicate point in Romania.

Other than that, national identity cards are compulsory in Romania,
although they do not have any biometric data (for now). I am not
sure to what extent this would influence the ranking.

cdmiller January 11, 2008 12:54 PM

@Mitch “Can anyone point out national/large-scale personal repercussions that have taken place in any country due to diminished privacy?”

Genocide. Many genocides are linked with government databases about individuals, such as whether the individual owns a firearm, practices a certain religion, or is of a certain race. Genocides against Armenians, Kulaks, Jews, Cambodians, and Tutsi are some examples. Genocide is a proven documented large scale repercussion of governments collecting otherwise private data about individuals.

Sedgequill January 11, 2008 3:11 PM

It’s hard to convince those who have not seen any convincing anecdotal evidence that businesses, organizations, institutions, and government agencies pose any risk to individuals whose data they obtain. There’s almost an attitude of feeling that personal and activity data is owed to those who ask for it or even who have the technology in place to gather it without asking for it. Maybe the I’ve-got-nothing-to-hide crowd are more likely to be convinced by the facts of nefarious web activity, if they happen upon enough tech and privacy news to clue them in. Do they feel that they owe a phishing site everything that it asks for? How would the prospect of owning a zombie computer serving some botnet sit with them? Would they find anything wrong with having a software program, installed without their knowledge or permission, keylogging their activity and transmitting it to felons somewhere? Maybe they’d admit that being able to gather personal information and deserving the personal information are not the same thing.

I don’t know much IT security; as far as I can tell, however, the best privacy and security choices help to protect against overreaching businesses, organizations, institutions, and government agencies and also against crooks and mischief-makers. What kinds of choices? Software. Network preferences. Browser preference settings, especially for content/scripts/plug-ins and cookies. How much personal information to volunteer. Whether a secure (encrypted) connection is needed. Whether a message or other content should be encrypted. Password/key strength.

It all turns into something of a mindset. Mine’s not fully formed.

Sparafucile January 16, 2008 6:06 AM

@Mitch “Can anyone point out national/large-scale personal repercussions that have taken place in any country due to diminished privacy?”

It’s not “large scale”: that’s the problem. It’s small scale. Large scale people have lawyers and publicity. Criminals want to keep it small-scale.

The chap who, having given a blood sample voluntarily during the investigation of a rape, finds that the defence tested it for HIV (positive) and that as a witness he is questioned about it. He didnt know he was HIV positive – everybody else did. (About four years ago in the UK – as always I can’t find the URL)

Operation Ore. Police, followed by Social Sevices, raid houses and remove computers and children because Credit Card numbers appear on a porn website. At least one suicide; it now looks as if at least half the cases involved card details obtained in violations of privacy and used as part of a money laundering scheme.

Jeremy Clarkson. Jeremy Clarkson is a UK jpurnalist of the sort. Writing about the loss of 25 million names etc by our Revenue, he said that this was all a fuss about nothing, that this information was useless, and finished off by giving his own name, address and Bank details in the Daily Telegraph (right-wing newspaper). In his next bank statement, he finds that someone has set up a standing order on his account paying £500 (about $1000) a month into a charity. He was honest enough to admit the point in later article.

AlanMatthews June 7, 2009 10:28 AM

People confuse protection with privacy. We need protection, “you can’t have my stuff” which means I need passwords, locks etc. Clarkson didn’t have a problem, the system that allows anyone with a public number (your bank account) to take money from it has the problem. Banks must have strong authentication procedures.

I contend that efficiency will drive information into the system just as depicted in the aclu show above. I also contend that what it shows isn’t bad.

  1. The “pizza CRM” knows who I am. Yes please – most companies do and they should know more to tailor what I want (which is where it’s actually used in practice).

However… all the “bad” stuff is just risk adjusting the price.

  1. Insurance companies have insurance adjusters that create costs associated with risk. The whole thing around healthy diet is quite reasonable. I’m not being denied access to a meal, I’m being charged for the risk.
  2. The delivery driver may have more risk in delivering to one area more than another. This is acceptable. The upside is that maybe I am able to get a delivery by paying for it instead of being told that no delivery is available, which further burdens people living in “less desirable” areas.

Presumeably the guy who’s fit and burdens the health system less gets to pay less. Isn’t that called health insurance and don’t a lot of people own it today under that plan?

  1. Access to my information provides for a more efficient market and I’m all for it.

The problem used to be a chicken and egg problem, but technology has been able to lay a bazillion eggs. Getting there is messy because large organizations will be able to organize faster creating a dislocated advantage.

We will get there though… I’d start making money at it if I were you.

“Privacy is good” is a good meme, unfortunately.

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