More and more journalists, netizens and dissidents are ending up in prison after their online communications are intercepted. The adoption of a legal framework that protects online freedoms is essential, both as regards the overall issue of Internet surveillance and the particular problem of firms that export surveillance products. Grégoire Pouget, Reporters Without Borders.
A new international coalition of human rights organizations launched today in Brussels. In an online open letter to governments (see below), CAUSE–the Coalition Against Unlawful Surveillance Exports–is calling on global leaders to live up to their moral responsibility and commit to regulating private exports of surveillance systems and technologies used by dictators to crush dissent and stifle free speech.
“No country seems off limits to companies that create and sell these damaging surveillance tools,” reads CAUSE’s petition. “Various reports document their use in countries as diverse as Bahrain, Turkmenistan, Egypt, Morocco and Ethiopia amongst others. The current lack of concerted and effective international trade regulation has fostered an environment in which commercial companies have enabled authoritarian regimes with pervasive surveillance capabilities.
CAUSE, comprising Amnesty International, Digitale Gesellschaft, FIDH, Human Rights Watch, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Privacy International and Reporters without Borders – cites a $5 billion international trade in communication surveillance technologies and wants to hold both governments and private companies accountable for governments abuse of spying software and related tools and equipment.
CAUSE Open Letter
We, the undersigned organisations, express our grave concern at the development and the irresponsible sale and export of surveillance technologies across the world, where they are being used by oppressive and authoritarian regimes for internal repression of their citizens and in violation of a range of fundamental human rights.
No country seems off limits to companies that create and sell these damaging surveillance tools: various reports document their use in countries as diverse as Bahrain, Turkmenistan, Egypt, Morocco and Ethiopia amongst others. The current lack of concerted and effective international trade regulation has fostered an environment in which commercial companies have enabled authoritarian regimes with pervasive surveillance capabilities.
The proliferation of these technologies allows for mass surveillance of entire countries, via hacking computers or phones, mapping, profiling and analysing social networks, installing malware allowing for surreptitious extraction of data, and mass internet monitoring and filtering through the tapping of under-sea fibre-optics cables that carry all communications traffic in and out of countries. These technologies enable regimes to crush dissent or criticism, chill free speech and destroy the fundamental rights that underpin democratic societies.
We work in diverse and challenging environments across the world defending international human rights. We have seen the impact and effect these tools have on citizens and civil society groups alike. Inaction will further embolden the surveillance trade and normalise state surveillance.
We urge governments to come together and take action.