Countries Ranked by Privacy
How the U.S. and the Rest of the World View Privacy
There’s no question that the world has become a far more dangerous place over the past decade. And in their goal to keep their citizens safe, many governments throughout the world have sacrificed freedom in the name of security.
That means that privacy rights for many people around the world have been restricted or taken away. And those in power answer critics by pointing to the need to root out terrorists who communicate on social media, and private conversations that may lead to devastating attacks.
So it’s important to take a look at how some of the biggest nations in the world – including the United States – are handling the privacy of their citizens, and how residents of these countries view their privacy in a world that is facing so many threats.
International Privacy Index Ranking
Countries in the Top Five of the Privacy Index
It’s worth taking a closer look at the countries that finished in the top five of the privacy index, which means that they gave their citizens the most protection in terms of data privacy.
Ranked first in the privacy index based on the 14 criteria.
The sanctity of privacy is protected in the Greek Constitution under Article 9, which safeguards the right of every citizen to have protections against the use of their personal information.
Greece only allows data sharing and communication interception among government agencies for national security reasons and for investigation of serious crimes.
In situations that don’t involve serious crimes or threats to national security, government access to data can only be obtained by the lawful consent of the citizen.
In addition, the Greek Constitution protects freedom of expression, free thought, free movement, and the right to protest.
Data privacy is enforced through the Hellenic Data Protection Authority, which can impose fines, suspend the license of data processing companies, and destroy personal data archives that are in violation of privacy laws.
Ranked second in the privacy index based on the 14 criteria. Canada has established several statutory protections related to privacy, including the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and the Digital Privacy Act.
The PIPEDA protects the private information of Canadian citizens from being accessed or send to any organization or company without their consent.
The Digital Privacy Act requires all organizations to inform customers of data breaches and privacy enforcement includes a $100,000 fine for non-compliance.
Canada’s Internet penetration has exceeded 32 million users, which is 88 percent of the population.
Canadians also spend 36 hours online each month, which is higher than any other country in the world. And desktop Internet users in Canada search an average of 3,238 web pages every month, making Canadians among the most diverse online users in the world.
And on average, Canadians watch 5 more hours of streaming videos online than their American neighbors down south.
And when they do watch videos and other online content, they don’t think much of their own country’s content, because only 14 percent of Canadian users watch home-produced shows.
Ranked third in Privacy Internationals privacy index, and is one of the most digitally connected countries in Eastern Europe.
44% of Romanians are on social media, and the country has the highest number of Internet connections in Eastern Europe with speeds that exceed 100 Mbps.
What’s really interesting is that elderly men and women ages 55 and older are the most active online users in Romanian cities (14.4% women, 16.4% men) whereas very few elderly men and women that live in the countryside use the Internet.
Romanians enjoy significant statutory protection from government intrusion of their private communications.
The National Supervisory Authority For Personal Data helps safeguard the personal communications of Roman citizens, and the country’s press has robust freedoms, which rival that of the U.S.
In a 2017 prosperity index that took into account economics, business, democratic freedoms, and safety and security, Romania ranked 46th out of 149 nations in the world, a high ranking for a country that just 30 years ago was ruled by an autocratic dictator.
Ranked fourth in the privacy index. The Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information offers statutory protection and privacy enforcement for any Hungarian resident whose privacy rights have been violated.
The 2011 National Assembly endorsed the constitutional protection of privacy, data protection and cybersecurity as the fundamental right of every citizen of Hungary.
Hungarians are protected against the exposure of their sensitive data such as their race, national origin, political opinion, political affiliation, religious beliefs and their membership in any organization that doesn’t violate the law.
Hungarian law also significantly restricts workplace monitoring of employees, and only allows such monitoring if it is directly related to the work an employee is performing. Employers who wish to monitor an employee must provide advance notice, including any visual surveillance that is taking place at the workplace.
Ranked fifth in the privacy index. Argentina is home to more than 43 million people. 79% are on the Internet, with 46% accessing the Internet via a smartphone. In addition, 70% of Argentineans are on social media.
The 2001 Intelligence Act banned intelligence agents from repressing citizen rights, obtaining information based on race, religion or politics, or exerting undue influence over Argentine citizens.
The Data Protection Act protects the personal data of Argentineans, and also restricts government access to this information unless it is the interest of national security.
Countries in the Bottom Five of the Privacy Index
Ranked fifth from the bottom in the privacy index. Surprisingly, England, one of Europe’s most Democratic countries lags behind other nations when it comes to privacy laws.
The United Kingdom on the whole ranks low because privacy enforcement is so weak. Enforcement agencies lack the power to audit data and information companies, so they must rely on self-audits or complaints from citizens before taking action.
The right of privacy is not written in the English constitution, which means the English people cannot rely on a constitutional protection to their right to privacy.
In fact, other freedoms are being restricted in England, which is alarming some who view these freedoms as part of the country’s move toward a more controlling central authority.
The country recently placed 40th in a 2017 Reporters Without Borders ranking of press freedoms throughout the world.
The survey found that reporters in England were less able to question the actions of those in power, than reporters in countries with dictatorial reputations like South Africa, Chile and Lithuania.
Worse yet, the powers-that-be have proposed a spy act that would make it crime for reporters to act as whistleblowers against government agencies.
And visual surveillance in England is already out of control, as there are between 4 million and 6 million CCTV surveillance cameras in the United Kingdom, and 422,000 in London alone. Practically every move that English residents make is captured on camera, and the Big Brother surveillance systems are only become more widespread.
Ranked fourth from the bottom in the privacy index. Like England, the government in Singapore has heavily invested in visual surveillance, and the public largely agrees with this invasion of privacy, because crime is so low.
Singapore has no constitutional protection of privacy, and in fact, it has consistently failed to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prevents any resident of a country from being subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference of privacy.
In 2013, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that Singapore gave five countries, including the U.S., access to private communications in Malaysia as part of a spy program.
Singapore is run like a police state when it comes to citizens’ rights. The government’s communication interception, visual surveillance and workplace monitoring is a well-known fact.
Intelligence agencies routinely access citizens’ private texts, emails and Internet communication without their consent. There is no court order or warrant necessary if a government agency wants to take whatever information they need in the name of national interest.
That kind of spying can be corrupted, however, as in 2009, a policeman was arrested for accessing the criminal record of previous girlfriends.
Singapore is using video analytics from a company named Kai Square, which lets CCTV cameras digitally identify and record people’s faces. The information is stored into a database, and can be used to match faces and images for whatever purpose the government wants.
Ranked third from the bottom. Since its days as part of the Soviet Union, Russia has been known as a country whose government gives very little freedom to its citizens.
Russian law bans any online user from using an anonymous identity with a messenger application. This means that anyone who wants to criticize the government must use his or her real name.
There are no democratic safeguards in Russia that protect privacy, and there are no constitutional or statutory protections for privacy.
Since the public protests that shook the nation in 2011, Russian President Vladimir Putin has cracked down on freedom of speech and information.
The government easily accesses just about every email or social media post, and anything that is deemed critical of the status quo can result in criminal charges.
All Russian Internet and telecom companies must store customer communications for six months, and must keep data related to those communications for three years.
From 2014 to 2016, 85% of criminal convictions for public expression detrimental to the country dealt with online communications.
Ranked second from the bottom in the privacy index. Malaysia has no constitutional protection of privacy, and is widely regarded as a country that tightly controls its citizens.
Courts in Malaysia rarely acknowledge the concept of invasion of privacy, but in 2010, the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) provided some statutory privacy protection to citizens whose data was used by financial institutions.
The PDPA prohibits data companies from accessing a person’s personal data without first obtaining their consent.
But by and large, Malaysia is a country that restricts its citizens’ freedoms. The Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) gives the government the power to stop newspapers from publishing stories, and to suspend the publication of books.
The Communications and Multimedia ACT (CMA) is used to block websites that expose corruption and to punish radio stations that debate politics, and social media users who express their opinions.
Ranking dead last in Privacy Internationals privacy index, China continues to live up to its reputation as a nation that is completely dominated by its central government.
China has more than 730 million active Internet users, which is roughly 53% of its entire population. That means that the number of Chinese Internet users is nearly equal to the entire population of Europe, which has 743 million people.
95% of online users in China are on a mobile device, which means that 50% of China’s population of 1.4 billion people is mobile Internet users.
China recently implemented the most restrictive cybersecurity law in the world, which allows the government to enforce censorship, restricts where private citizens can store data, and bans online access to any information or material that the government thinks is subversive.
China has also implemented a vast facial-recognition system that captures the faces of its citizens for the purpose of socially controlling their behavior.
One facial recognition screen captures jaywalkers and informs them that they will face fines for their misbehavior, and even identifies repeat offenders so that everyone around them can hear.
By 2020, China will install a national social credit system that would rate each citizen based on video surveillance of their work behavior and their behavior in public, as well as financial monitoring that determines how well they handle their money.
How Americans and the Rest of the World View NSA Spying
The National Security Agency is a U.S. agency tasked with intercepting and analyzing all communication that could affect national security. In theory, most of the agency’s ‘spying’ should take place in foreign countries, but the 2013 revelations by Edward Snowden exposed a massive domestic spying network that shocked and dismayed many Americans, as well as people worldwide.
In addition to spying on U.S. citizens, the NSA has also spied on American allies in Europe, South America and Asia.
So how do Americans feel about this level of invasion into their privacy?
81% of people outside the U.S. think the NSA spying on citizens of their country is unacceptable, while 12% think it’s acceptable
Privacy Changes Based On Circumstances
The biggest takeaway from this overview of privacy is that governments often change their policy on privacy protection based on the events that occur in their countries. As a result, significant threats to national security often force those in power to restrict privacy in the name of keeping the peace.
So it will be difficult for anyone to predict how privacy protections around the world will change, without knowing the kind of events that could influence the decisions of those in power. Stay tuned.