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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Big brother across the pond

The Observer tells us that new law pushed through Congress by the US government will give American security agencies unprecedented powers to spy on British citizens without a warrant.

Although designed to help the National Security Agency in the fight against terrorism, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act gives US security services powers to intercept all telephone calls, internet traffic and emails made by British citizens across US-based networks.

As a large proportion of the world's telecoms networks and internet infrastructure runs through the US, the new act will give the security services huge scope for monitoring and intercepting Britons' private communications, as well as those of other foreign citizens. The paper says that there are fears that it will see a huge increase in the number of British citizens being extradited to the US. This is especially so given the UK Government's capitulation on the issue of extradition last year.

The paper adds that 'concern over US powers to monitor foreign citizens is growing. European privacy watchdogs have expressed fears that the US authorities are to be handed powers to check the personal details of travellers entering America and store them on databases alongside details such as their sexuality and religious beliefs for up to 15 years. The watchdogs, including the Information Commissioner of England and Wales, Richard Thomas, have been scathing in their criticism of the European Commission for granting the US its demand for the new powers.

In a coded statement the Information Commissioner's office yesterday acknowledged concerns that the privacy of some four million Britons who travel to the US each year is at risk because of the new powers.'

In January the Daily Telegraph reported that Britons flying to America could have their credit card and email accounts inspected by the United States authorities following a deal struck by Brussels and Washington. By using a credit card to book a flight, passengers face having other transactions on the card inspected by the American authorities. Providing an email address to an airline could also lead to scrutiny of other messages sent or received on that account. This new law seems to take that breach of privacy one step further.
I believe this is already happening - I will no longer travel to or through the US due to the onerous procedures at the other end.

While transiting through Houston to Mexico i was asked `what brings you to the United States?` - I felt like saying I'm not going to the United States. This customs official then looked at his screen and asked me what i did for a living. When i told him he kind of nodded as if he knew already.

This is a huge issue - new labour go on and on about Data Protection yet seem powerless to stop huge breaches in it by other powers.
This is desperately serious stuff. I know I've talked about it before, but I still can't get over the fact that if any of us want to transfer cash from a UK bank account to, say, a continental European one, for whateer purpose, the transaction has to go through the USA and they can look into it.

Brussels has said that it's not happy with this, but banks require citizens to waive their right to privacy (from the US govt!!) before sending the money on.

What does our govt do about this?
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