Britain sued for failing to control exports of surveillance technologies

British companies have been peddling their wares to repressive regimes for years now,  says Eric King, head of research at Privacy International.

“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,” he states.”

And, “The government must stop exports of British surveillance technologies to despotic regimes before more harm is done, says PEI director-general Simon Davies in a letter to to prime minister David Cameron and Creativity Software CEO Richard Lee following revelations that Creativity sold a location-tracking system to Iran..

“By failing to intervene thus far, your government has effectively given UK companies like Creativity Software carte blanche to continue selling equipment and software to brutal non-democratic regimes,”

With that in mind, PI lawyers, Bhatt Murphy, have written to the secretary of state for business innovation and skills asking why, despite repeated demands the  British government  hasn’t taken   “concrete steps to stop British surveillance technology being exported to regimes that routinely engage in internal repression and serious human rights breaches including unlawful detention, torture and enforced disappearance”.

“Human rights defenders, political dissidents and other vulnerable groups around the world are being targeted by increasingly sophisticated state surveillance, much of it supplied by British companies. Secret police in three continents are currently using British technology to enter victims’ computers and mobile devices, commandeer the cameras and microphones for surveillance, monitor all email, instant messenger and voice call activity (including Skype) and transform mobile phones into location tracking devices. Text messages and call records retrieved in this way have been presented to victims during subsequent torturous interrogations,”  says PI, going on:

“The use of British technologies by dictators and repressive regimes in the developing world has been common knowledge since April 2011, when the Guardian reported that Egyptian dissidents had found a proposal document from Hampshire-based Gamma International in the ransacked headquarters of Mubarak’s secret police service.

“The product Gamma was pitching to Egypt was the FinFisher suite, a range of malicious software that infects a computer or mobile device using a fake update from what appears to be a legitimate source like iTunes, Blackberry or Adobe Flash. There is also evidence that this technology has been deployed in Turkmenistan, a one-party state that Human Rights Watch labelled “one of the world’s most repressive countries” in March 2012.”

Under the Export Control Act 2002, the British government has the power to restrict exports of goods or technical assistance capable of facilitating internal repression or breaches of human rights. However, it has repeatedly chosen not to exercise these powers,  the privacy protection group  points out, adding.

“Privacy International has given the British government 21 days to respond. If  there’s no action by then,  it says, it’ll file for judicial review and if appropriate seek an urgent injunction preventing British companies from maintaining and updating systems already previously sold to repressive regimes, and stopping any new exports in their tracks,”  It says.

Stay tuned.

 Jon Newton – myblogdammit