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Government Surveillance

CDT Releases Report on Governments’ Systematic Access to Personal Data

Around the world, governments are demanding access to personal data on a systematic basis, and existing legal structures provide an inadequate foundation for addressing either the human rights or the practical sides of the issue, according to a new report released by the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT).

The report, Systematic Government Access to Personal Date: A Comparative Analysis, examines the government access practices and laws of thirteen countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and identifies common themes across them. It also analyzes the governments’ practices and laws through a framework derived from international human rights law. The report is the culmination of a study begun in 2011 and was funded by The Privacy Projects.

“It’s clear that government access to personal data is increasing worldwide and that there are not sufficient laws in place to address the privacy and free expressions issues this raises. International human rights law unquestionably offers the best framework for assessing surveillance laws and policies. A global approach to this pervasive problem is essential if we are to see real progress in restoring the balance between surveillance and fundamental human rights,” said Leslie Harris, CDT President & CEO.

As the report notes, even after the leaks by Edward Snowden, the lack of transparency by governments makes it difficult to have a complete or fully accurate understanding of surveillance and systematic data access practices. The report finds that relevant laws are at best vague, and government interpretations of them are often hidden. Oversight and reporting mechanisms are generally either absent or limited in scope, especially with respect to surveillance conducted in the name of national security.

The primary conclusions of the report were:

  • Technological advances are making it easier than ever for governments to collect, store and process information on a massive scale, and governments are exploiting this by demanding more and more information.
  • As Internet-based services become increasingly globalized, trans-border surveillance has flourished.
  • In a post-9/11 world, national security powers have been getting stronger.
  • The expansion of governments’ national security powers as been conducted in extreme secrecy.

The full report is available at The charts are also available in a web format at