New book reveals details about governments' 'systemic access' to private data

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- According to a new book about government surveillance co-edited by an Indiana University professor and administrator and published this month by Oxford University Press:

  • Governments increasingly turn to the private sector when seeking data about private individuals, and they seek information not just about one person at a time but millions.
  • This trend isn't limited to the United States but includes almost all of the countries surveyed in the new volume.
  • The data collection from private companies is usually done in secret and without adequate oversight.

"Bulk Collection: Systematic Government Access to Private-Sector Data" compiles six years of research conducted across a dozen countries. It is edited by Indiana University Vice President for Research and Distinguished Professor Fred H. Cate and James Dempsey, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

Leading an initiative sponsored by The Privacy Projects, Cate and Dempsey commissioned a series of 12 country reports from a wide array of leading scholars and practitioners across the globe.

Chief among their discoveries is that foreign governments -- as well as the U.S. -- are using national security to cloak their data-collection efforts in secrecy.

"There are disturbing indications of systemic access to private-sector data all over the world," Cate said. "These programs are often undertaken in the name of national security, which makes them largely immune from oversight and pose significant threats to personal privacy."

Those countries examined are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea and the United States. The report on the United States was compiled by Cate and Beth Cate, clinical associate professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

The book also includes 11 chapters that present descriptive and normative frameworks for assessing national surveillance laws, survey evolving international law and human rights principles applicable to government surveillance, and describe oversight mechanisms. It also explores the concept of accountability and the role of encryption in shaping the surveillance debate.

The book has earned praise from government and private-sector officials.

"Jim Dempsey and Fred Cate have compiled both a remarkable survey of surveillance practices around the world and a pragmatic framework of accountability and oversight principles that can protect human rights while defending national security," said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith agreed.

"We live in a world where data can help governments fight crime and terrorism, but that same data often resides in the hands of individuals or private companies governed by different national laws," he said. "With security, rights and laws increasingly in conflict, this book couldn't be more timely."

"Bulk Collection: Systematic Government Access to Private-Sector Data" is available at most major retailers.

Fred H. Cate is vice president for research at Indiana University and Distinguished Professor and C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law at the IU Maurer School of Law. He serves as a senior policy advisor to the Centre for Information Policy Leadership at Hunton & Williams LLP and is one of the founding editors of the Oxford University Press journal, International Data Privacy Law.

James X. Dempsey is executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. From 2012 to January 2017, he served as a member of the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

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Email: joboyd@indiana.edu

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