EU to Tighten Rules on Surveillance Technology Exports

“It is unacceptable that regimes in Syria and Iran can use European technologies to violate human rights”. Marietje Schaake

Activists have been fighting the battle against technology exports to repressive countries for years. To track and surveil citizens online, regimes such as Mubarak´s in Egypt or Assad´s  in Syria have relied on Western technology. The latest Wikileaks files on Syria reveal that the involvement of Western companies in the crackdown against Syrian citizens has continued despite sanctions and international pressure.

Tightening the rules

Now the EU seems to have finally agreed to take action on tightening the rules that have made these exports possible. In January the EU announced regulation No. 36/2012 to ban surveillance technology exports to Syria. This would cover the “sale, maintenance and updates of systems for ‘deep-packet inspection’ of e-mail contents, remote infection of computers, speaker recognition, ‘tactical’ interception of text messages,” among other technologies.

Within a strategy that the EU announces as “seeking to anchor and mainstream the promotion and protection of digital freedom”, Parliamentarians are now calling for stricter control on dual-use technology to prevent it from being used by repressive regimes. But what does this involve?

  • EU member states will be obliged to block technology exports to countries facing emergency situations.
  • Companies should ask for export authorization if they have reasons to believe that certain exports might harm human rights

How will this be implemented?

According to Dutch Member of European Parliament Marietje Schaake´s proposal, the European Commission will be required to provide a regularly updated list of restricted products and countries. An upgraded EU control system would guarantee that the EU knows what is being sold to whom, and whether the sale is potentially dangerous.

Is the European Commission really committed to this? “The Commission should take all necessary steps to implement these updates”, Schaake has assured Global Voices Advocacy (GVA). “If they don't, we will remind them.

GVA has expressed the wish that this process is as transparent as possible. Schaake has welcomed active participation from citizens on making sure this regulation is effectively implemented:

I am happy to pass on suggestions from citizens to those responsible. It helps when more people are raising their voices against digital arms trade. For many people in Europe it is hard to imagine that technologies used in Syria, Iran, and other countries are literally of vital importance.

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