Governments Agree: You Will Have No Electronic Privacy

Friday, August 19, 2011
By Paul Martin

by Mark Nestmann

“Don’t change a winning strategy.”

Nowhere is this truism more slavishly followed than in the global campaign to eliminate financial and electronic privacy.

The strategy is simple. First, the governments that find privacy inconvenient create a purportedly independent commission, funded by a non-governmental entity, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The purpose of the commission is to find a solution to a “problem.” The problem could be the disturbing tendency of individuals to take measures so as not to have their wealth confiscated. Or, their equally disturbing desire not to have their communications monitored.

The commission establishes “minimum standards” to deal with the problem. These standards often run roughshod over human rights protections established over centuries and enshrined in national constitutions. Nonetheless, influential organizations publish reports calling for the minimum standards to be adopted globally. Politicians clamor that the severity of the crisis de jour overrides any concern for human rights. Most countries make the necessary accommodations, and the standards eventually become law.

If this sequence of events sounds familiar, it should. It is precisely the way in which the OECD largely dismantled offshore bank secrecy over the past 20 years. Critics of this process have dubbed it “policy laundering,” but it persists – because it works.

Now, a similar sequence is playing out in the realm of Internet privacy. In 1994, the United States enacted the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). This law requires that electronic communications companies construct equipment and networks to facilitate government surveillance. In what must have appeared to be a remarkable coincidence to the uninitiated, in quick succession, several other nations introduced legislation similar to CALEA.

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