A newly-published report warns that a global infrastructure of registration and surveillance is emerging through the efforts of groups such as the EU, G8 and ICAO. According to the report, which was produced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Focus on the Global South, Friends Committee (US), International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (Canada), and Statewatch, anti-terror and security measures being driven largely by the US are being used to roll back freedom, increase powers and exercise increasing control over individuals and populations.
The report details a number of "signposts" on the road to global surveillance, and argues that these add up to a bigger picture where the aim is to ensure that "almost everyone on the planet is 'registered', that all travel is tracked globally, that all electronic communications and transactions can be easily watched, and that all the information collected about individuals in public or private-sector databases is stored, linked, and made available to state agents.
Most of the signposts are already clearly visible. Registration systems for foreigners, national ID schemes and biometric passports provide the registration process, while electronic borders, passenger data sharing and threat lists cover surveillance of physical movements. The increased sharing of database and their convergence at an international level have accelerated the globalisation of surveillance and security, while mutual legal assistance arrangements contribute to an erosion of democratic values and sovereign checks and balances.
The technological capacity of the structures being built "dwarfs any previous system and makes Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four look quaint", says the report.
The result, however, will be a massive loss of freedoms in exchange for systems which do not succeed in their intended purposes, and which may even obstruct them by chasing down the blind alleys of predictive 'threat models' and risk profiling. "The initiatives described in this report are not effective in flagging terrorists or stopping their determined plans," it says. "They divert crucial resources away from the kind of investments in human intelligence we need to give us good intelligence about specific threats, rather than useless information on the nearly 100 per cent of the population that poses no threat whatsoever."
On the back of the report the groups have, with the support of around 100 civil liberties groups and NGOs world-wide, launched the International Campaign Against Mass Surveillance (ICAMS), which will campaign against mass surveillance-oriented anti-terrorism efforts. Commented Statewatch director Tony Bunyan: "Our message is that mandatory registration and mass surveillance are not the answers to the problem of terrorism, and not a road that any nation should be heading down. What is needed is good intelligence on specific threats - not the so-called 'risk-profiling' of entire populations and the generation of more information than can possibly be usefully analysed. There is a real danger that in trying to watch everyone you are actually watching no-one." ®