Confidential documents leaked to the press by Edward Snowden revealing the National Security Agency’s (NSA) PRISM – a program which scoops up personal information off the likes of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Skype – has shed light on the creeping growth of the United States’ surveillance on its own citizens.
Though the magnitude of the program is startling, US Internet surveillance is not new – and the US government is not alone. Dozens of other governments snoop on their citizens and have been doing so for years – and the list of offenders is not exclusive to the autocrats of the world. In fact, many “democracies” run programs very similar to PRISM.
“[With] respect to surveillance, the United States is believed to be among the most aggressive countries in the world in terms of listening to online conversations,” notes the OpenNet Initiative, a non-partisan academic institute that monitors government Internet surveillance worldwide. Others include nations across Europe and in North America.
North America, Europe, and the world's largest democracy
Canada has been collecting personal information about citizens for years, according to a recent report by the Globe and Mail. The program, run by Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEA), NSA’s counterpart north of the border, collects metadata similar to the kind collected by PRISM. Originally started in 2005, the program was suspended in 2008, only to be rebooted by a secret directive issued by Canada’s Defense Minister Peter McKay in 2011, thereby bypassing parliamentary oversight.
Britain has also tried to push through communications surveillance legislation. The Communications Data Bill, which has been put on the legislative back burner, would require telecommunications and Internet service providers "to keep records of every phone call, email and website visit in Britain," writes WIRED in a 2012 article. Should the bill eventually pass, it would expand the scope of the already existing Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which gives police access to phone and email records, but only if service providers keep that information.
India, the world’s largest democracy, also has a history of government snooping. In 2008, India’s parliament passed an amendment to the Information Technology (IT) Act, making it a crime to publish so-called obscenities, as well as making it legal “to search premises without warrants and arrest individuals in violation of the act,” according to the OpenNet Initiative.
Section 69B of the amendment allows the government to track and collect data from any computer in the service of cyber security. In addition, the Indian government will soon launch a new agency, the National Cyber Coordination Centre, which “will give law enforcement agencies direct access to all Internet accounts,” reports the Hindu.
This is only a sampling of surveillance states: According to Quartz, 36 countries are using software developed by FinFisher, a firm specializing in “governmental IT intrusion.” The software surreptitiously infects computers and then monitors them for suspicious activity, particularly Skype conversations.
None of these governments consider their spy programs illegal. According to them, they are operating within the letter of the law when scrutinizing the information citizens produce, often saying its necessary for public security. But this may be no comfort to Americans who seek to escape the watchful eye of the NSA by means of immigration.