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Monday September 8, 2003

US out to create global police state

WASHINGTON: As part of the war on terror, the United States is pressuring other countries and its own citizens to accept invasions of privacy in the name of law enforcement, two human rights groups reported on Friday. 

"Unfortunately it is the case today that the United States has pushed against privacy laws and international privacy standards as it has pursued its war on terrorism, post-Sept 11," said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre. 

When pressed to list the worst offenders, Rotenberg put the United States at the top, followed by Japan and members of the European Union. 

He said US began pressuring other nations to de-emphasise privacy early, in October 2001, when US President George W. Bush expressed concern that European privacy laws might hinder the US investigation into the hijack attacks at the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania on Sept 11, 2001. 

"This had an immediate impact on the telecommunications field," Rotenberg said at a news conference. 

"Telephone companies and Internet service providers were then urged to retain traffic data on all their customers, whether or not they were suspected of any criminal activity." 

Rotenberg's group and the British-based Privacy International released a report on Friday that noted more violations of privacy rights in the United States, Europe, Latin America and East Asia. 

In Latin America, he said half a dozen countries were investigating allegations that a US firm was buying data about Latin American citizens -- including records on voter registration, property and driver registration -- to sell to the US Justice Department. 

In the United States, there have been protests against development of a screening system called the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System. 

"Is there any reason to believe that any of the Sept 11 hijackers would have been picked up by this system? I think the answer's very clearly no," said David Sobel, a lawyer for the US privacy rights group. 

Sobel said the system was at risk for "mission creep." 

"There's going to be a very strong incentive within the government ... to look for other things ... whether it's dead-beat dads or people who defaulted on student loans or any other government assumption that a certain profile indicates a certain proclivity to some kind of wrongdoing," Sobel said. -- Reuters 

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