The UK government is being called out by a privacy charity, which is threatening legal action unless the MPs explain why they are shipping surveillance equipment and technology to repressive regimes in Iran, Egypt and Syria.
Privacy International is the name of the group spearheading this campaign and it is sending out letters to Vince Cable the business secretary, having already put the question to David Cameron back in 2011. The communications highlight the fact that the secretary of state has the right – under the 2002 Export Control Act – to withhold the sale of technology to other countries if it is believed it will be used to breach human rights. If the government doesn’t make use of this right, Privacy International plans to take the government to court.
“British companies have been peddling their wares to repressive regimes for years now,” said Privacy International’s head of research Eric King in a statement (via Wired).”Publicly condemning the abuses of dictators like Al-Assad while turning a blind eye to the fact that British technologies may be facilitating these abuses is the worst kind of hypocrisy. The government must stop exports of British surveillance technologies to despotic regimes before more harm is done.”
The UK of course isn’t the only country turning a blind eye to the export of these technologies. French and Italian companies have also been highlighted as shipping surveillance software and hardware to countries like Syria and Libya, including quite malicious spyware like tools. It’s thought that in many instances these pieces of digital equipment are being used to uncover protesters as well as ‘rebels’ through mobile phone hacking and malware installed on user’s computers.
KitGuru Says: This is a very interesting issue to highlight, since often the incredibly lucrative and controversial weapons trade gets most of the world’s attention. When conventional menes of internal citizen repression could lead to military intervention from the world at large, what better way to crack down on your civilians than by monitoring them with Western developed spyware.