Canadian Groups Call for Limits to Surveillance

April 21, 2005
Protests heard against plans for biometric passports, travel watch lists

OTTAWA (CP) - Civil liberties groups called on countries around the globe Wednesday to rein in "intrusive and discriminatory measures" - from national ID cards to no-fly lists - implemented in the name of fighting terrorism.

The International Campaign Against Mass Surveillance decried the growing web of security tools employed by governments in the post-Sept. 11 era to profile, monitor and track individuals.

Driven largely by the United States, countries are aggressively using information gathered and shared through electronic systems to crack down on dissent, close borders to refugees and activists, and seize and detain people without reasonable grounds, the ad-hoc coalition says.

"The object of the infrastructure is not ordinary police work, but mass surveillance of entire populations," says a declaration issued by campaign members.

"In its technological capacity and global reach, it is an unprecedented project of social control."

The campaign is spearheaded by groups including the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, the American Civil Liberties Union and Statewatch, based in Europe.

Gerry Barr of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, a campaign supporter, likened the expanding government use of personal information to criminal fraud.

"This is identity theft on a massive and official scale," he told a news conference.

Organizers circulated a list Wednesday of 83 organizations from around the world that have endorsed the campaign's declaration.

It calls on governments to:

-Halt all collection, storage and use of data and information-sharing practices contrary to existing privacy and human rights laws and standards.

-Ensure citizens can correct personal data held by governments and challenge misuse, including placement on a security watch list.

-Stop wholesale collection of information on individuals, such as purchase of databanks from private companies.

-Halt introduction of a universal biometric passport and the creation of "sharing standards" for passenger information until the issues have been openly debated.

The International Civil Aviation Organization adopted passport standards last year that require biometrics, or measurable physical characteristics, to determine identity.

The mandatory standard is a chip containing the traveler's photo, allowing quick electronic recognition. Iris scans and fingerprints were chosen as optional characteristics.

"The global introduction of a biometric passport is one way to achieve nearly universal registration of everyone on the planet, so that individuals can be easily identified, surveilled and assessed for risk," says a report released in support of the campaign.

Governments have ushered in a host of new security measures following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, arguing they are essential for public safety.

Barr, who is also co-chair of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, said some surveillance measures have been put in place without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

"I think there are a lot of people in Parliament who are asleep at the switch."