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UK still lousy on electronic nosiness

Report shows state of international surveillance heavyweights

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A new report highlights a depressingly consistent drift towards ever greater control of the population using new technologies.

There are few surprises in the 2010 report (pdf), entitled The Electronic Police State, issued yesterday. It shows Russia and the United States within a couple of points of each other when it comes to electronic policing and surveillance, North Korea just overtaking China to gain top prize, and the United Kingdom leading the rest of the West – after the US.

The report's authors at CryptoHippie do, of course, have a product to shift. It is a US-based company providing what it describes as "superior privacy enhancing technologies". However, it has also been putting a regular toe in the water to test the degree of electronic surveillance going on worldwide, and while it may not be the most unbiased of observers, it is at least producing a consistent data stream that allows the rest of us to debate the issues and monitor trends.

According to the report, an electronic police state is characterised by "State use of electronic technologies to record, organize, search and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens".

It continues:

The two crucial facts about the information gathered under an electronic police state are these:

1. It is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial.

2. It is gathered universally ("preventively") and only later organized for use in prosecutions.

States are assessed on 17 different criteria, including such varied factors as border issues, gag orders and anti-crypto laws. This year, a new weighting system has been introduced, so that certain factors contribute more heavily. The top-weighted items include: Financial Tracking, Data Storage Ability, Data Search Ability, ISP Data Retention, Cell Phone Record retention, (lack of) Police-Intel and Covert Hacking.

In many ways, what is depressing is how little has changed since the last such report in 2008. Almost without exception, the raw scores for each of the 52 states surveyed has gone up (though it is not absolutely clear whether this is a side-effect of the weighting). There has been a little jostling for position between China and North Korea, and the US has overtaken the UK to claim fifth place.

The latter may, in fact, be an artefact of the way states are selected. In 2008, Reg readers sparked a fierce debate over why the UK featured twice in CryptoHippie’s rankings. The reason was simple: it had separated out Scotland from the rest of the UK, and the former turned out to be significantly less repressive than their southern neighbours.

The slight improvement in the UK position from 5th to 6th may therefore be no more than spurious progress.

Otherwise, the big winners are Taiwan, Slovenia and New Zealand – all three of which dropped by five or more places in the rankings – and the big losers would appear to be the citizens of Spain, Portugal and Bulgaria (followed closely by Italy). In the case of Spain, which has leapt a massive 22 places up the ranks, no single factor appears to be the cause: rather, there is an across the board shift toward greater policing.

If you are looking to live somewhere that is not highly policed, CryptoHippie reckon that Brazil and the Phillipines are the places to go. Or even Romania.

Whether this latter finding has anything to do with greater liberalism breaking out in that country, or simply that they would like to spy on their citizens but lack the ability, is unclear. ®

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