ACLU Announces International Project to Stop "Policy Laundering"

April 13, 2005 12:00 am

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ACLU Announces International Project to Stop "Policy Laundering"

U.S. Undermining Liberties at Home By Working Through Secretive International Forums, ACLU Says

Contact: media@aclu


SEATTLE -- The American Civil Liberties Union, in concert with the European civil liberties groups Privacy International and Statewatch, today announced the formation of a new international ""Policy Laundering Project"" to monitor and influence the increasingly common formation of civil liberties-sensitive security policies through international organizations.

""In more and more areas, we are seeing security agencies pushing anti-privacy measures before international groups and foreign governments instead of through the domestic political process,"" said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project. ""This is the strategy we call policy laundering. The security agencies and law enforcement are 'going global' - and so must the protection of civil liberties.""

The policy laundering project was announced at the annual Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference taking place this week. At a news conference today, the ACLU cited several direct impacts of policy laundering on Americans:

  • Citizens in the coming year may begin to find that their passports come packaged with a radio chip capable of broadcasting the contents of their passport to anyone with an RFID reader. This policy is the result of a supposedly international standard-setting process that was in reality pushed by the United States.
  • If the Senate ratifies the U.S.-backed ""International Cybercrime Treaty,"" Americans could find themselves subject to new police powers - including searches carried out by the U.S. authorities that are ordered by undemocratic foreign governments.
  • Americans could find their privacy undermined by ""data retention"" policies that would require Internet Service Providers and other communications providers to retain their communications data. Although the idea has proved a nonstarter in the United States, the Bush Administration is now pushing the European Union to adopt data retention, apparently hoping to eventually lessen opposition to such a policy here in America.
  • Americans could find their private information increasingly landing in the hands of foreign governments. That will be a direct result of the American government's efforts to bully the EU and other governments into providing access to their citizens' private information.

As one example of the growing trend of globalized security cooperation, the ACLU pointed to the case of the reporting collective Indymedia, which received a visit and a subpoena from FBI agents and subsequently had its servers seized in London, apparently at the behest of Swiss police who were angry that photographs of undercover officers at a political rally had been published.

""We are now living in a world where closed-door negotiations in Geneva between U.S. Justice Department officials and their Swiss counterparts result in a knock on the door by FBI agents at an Internet Service Provider in Texas,"" said Steinhardt. ""Although we are an organization that has always been focused on protecting liberty in a domestic American context, it is now impossible to do so without going global.""

""Law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies from different nations are increasingly working together out of the public eye to amass new powers,"" Steinhardt added. ""The ACLU has always adapted when necessary to protect liberty in the United States, and now is such a time. We intend to ramp up our ability to join the fight on the international stage.""

The ACLU said that the Policy Laundering Project will focus on building up the capacity to monitor and influence international governmental organizations (IGOs), building connections to civil society groups and government officials in nations around the world, and keeping those officials and groups informed about the ways in which their governments stand to be affected by various policy laundering attempts.

In conjunction with the announcement, the ACLU also announced formation of a new Web site at www­

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