Saturday

25th Sep 2021

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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. Italy arrests Puigdemont on Spanish warrant
  2. EU and US hold trade talks despite French wrath
  3. EMA to decide on Pfizer vaccine booster in October
  4. EU welcomes Polish TV-station move
  5. Ukrainian parliament passes law to curb power of oligarchs
  6. EU could force Poland to pay lignite-coal fine
  7. Report: EU and US concerned by tech-giants' power
  8. EU states sign 'transparency pledge'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. Activists: 'More deaths' expected on Polish-Belarus border
  2. EU unveils common charger plan - forcing Apple redesign
  3. Central Europe leaders rail against 'new liberal woke virus'
  4. Yemen's refugees in 'appalling conditions', says UN agency
  5. VW emissions software was illegal, top EU lawyer says
  6. Sexism and the selection of the European Parliament president
  7. More French names linked to Russia election-monitoring
  8. Negotiations set for new, tougher, EU ethics body

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us