Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

MEPs target exports of cyber surveillance tech

  • A French company is under investigation for selling surveillance technology to the regime in Egypt (Photo: Alisdare Hickson)

The European Parliament is set to vote on a bill on Wednesday (17 January) that aims to crack down on cyber surveillance technology sold to countries with dubious human rights records.

The move follows widespread condemnation of autocratic regimes for lynching activists in the lead up to and during the 'Arab Spring'. Some of those regimes relied on cyber surveillance technology to suppress dissidents.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

German companies are said to be among Europe's biggest exporters, with clients in places like Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Klaus Buchner, a German MEP from the Ecological Democratic Party, is leading the file on behalf of the European Parliament.

"Iran is an example [of using] German technology, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and some others," he told reporters last week in Brussels.

Last December, a Paris prosecutor opened a judicial investigation into French firm Nexa Technologies after it landed a surveillance contract with the authoritarian Egyptian regime of Abdel Fattah Al Sissi.

Amnesty International says BAE Systems, the UK's largest arms manufacturer, had also last year exported controlled internet surveillance systems to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Morocco, and Algeria.

The latest bill on the parliament's table is a recasting of a 2011 European dual-use regulation whereby technologies can be used for both civil and military applications.

The European Commission had proposed to amend the regulation, which covers an annual €80 billion market, with stronger rules for the protection of human rights.

MEPs in the International Trade Committee (INTA) had agreed in November to include a human rights catch-all clause on cyber surveillance in the reforms. Such technology can be used to intercept mobile phones, circumvent passwords and remotely hack into computers.

"Until now, authorities had no obligation to reject requests for licenses in which human rights were not guaranteed," Anne-Marie Mineur, a Dutch MEP from the left-wing GUE group, told reporters in Strasbourg on Tuesday (16 January).

She said only 14 out of the 371 applications for export of European cyber surveillance technologies had been recently denied.

"More than half of these exports were meant for countries that have a very poor track record in terms of freedom of speech and other human rights," she said.

The reform includes due diligence rules for the broker or the exporter who will be obliged to inform member state authorities should the potential of abuse arise. The rule, however, is not enforced.

It also proposes penalties or fines will be the same for all countries found to violate the regulation. Those amounts have yet to be determined. Member states will also have to make the licensing data regarding approved and denied exports available for public scrutiny.

The latest commission reform was widely endorsed by committee MEPs from almost all the political groups and is likely to receive the backing of Wednesday's European plenary.

Should the plenary agree to the proposal then the Council, representing member states, will have to come up with their position for tripartite negotiations can start.

MEPs are hoping to launch talks under the Austrian EU presidency, during the second half of this year, and have the bill agreed before 2019.

"These new rules should eventually stop EU-produced surveillance equipment from being exported to countries where there is a high risk it would be used to abuse journalists, activists and others who work to defend rights," said Nele Meyer, senior executive officer at Amnesty International.

Germany says China using LinkedIn to recruit informants

Germany's spy agency says the Chinese state is trying to recruit high-ranking German officials via social media outlets like LinkedIn. It accused Chinese intelligence of setting up fake profiles to lure them into becoming informants.

Opinion

It's time we lost our 'cyber-naivety'

You wouldn't leave a box of your most prized possessions and private information in an unlocked box in the middle of the street, so why are so many people casual about their online information?

Opinion

Taking full benefit of supercomputers in Europe

Newly-announced financial help for so-called 'supercomputers' can help both EU member states, and small and medium-sized companies to grow - in fields such as health diagnostics, driverless cars and even earthquake predicting.

News in Brief

  1. British PM scrapes through no confidence vote
  2. Spanish PM calls for EU gender equality strategy
  3. Farage says bigger Brexit majority if second referendum
  4. Macron starts 'grand debate' tour after yellow vests protests
  5. Barnier: up to London to take Brexit forward
  6. Stimulus still needed, ECB's Draghi says in final report
  7. May's Brexit deal defeated by 230 votes
  8. German economy hit by global economic turbulence

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  2. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  3. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  4. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party
  5. On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?
  6. UK parliament rejects May's Brexit deal in historic defeat
  7. EU suggests majority vote on digital tax by 2025
  8. MEPs redouble appeal on sexual harassment

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us