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Alinda Vermeer's picture
What is the Wassenaar Arrangement?

The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies (the "Wassenaar Arrangement") is a multilateral export control regime in which 41 states participate.

The Wassenaar Arrangement was established on 12 July 1996 in Wassenaar, the Netherlands by 33 founding members to contribute to regional and international security and stability. It is the successor to COCOM, a NATO based group that discussed arms exports to non-NATO states, though the membership today is a lot more broad.

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Edin Omanovic's picture
Update:

After an initial discussion with technical and government experts involved in drafting and negotiating the new controls on “intrusion software”, some of our initial questions have been clarified. To read what they had to say, go here.


One of the major dangers of imposing export controls on surveillance systems is the risk of overreach. While you want the scope of the systems being controlled and the language to be wide enough to catch the targeted product and its variants, you also need the language to be specific and detailed enough to ensure that no items get inadvertently caught at the same time.

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Edin Omanovic's picture

Two new categories of surveillance systems were added into the dual-use goods and technologies control list of the Wassenaar Arrangement last week in Vienna, recognising for the first time the need to subject spying tools used by intelligence agencies and law enforcement to export controls.

While there are many questions that still need to be answered, Privacy International cautiously welcomes these additions to the Wassenaar Arrangement. Undoubtedly, these new controls don’t cover everything they could, but the recognition that something needs to be done at Wassenaar level is a foundation to build from.

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Mike Rispoli's picture

A strong, unified voice from the tech industry is absolutely essential to reforming the mass and intrusive surveillance programs being run by the Five Eyes, so we welcome today's statement from AOL, Apple, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo.

Companies have obligations to respect human rights and not be complicit in mass surveillance. Given what has been publicly revealed over the past six months, we must know for certain that the companies we entrust with our information on a daily basis are defending users and pushing back against government requests for our data. The launch of these industry principles today are a first step to restoring much of the trust in the industry that has been thrown into question since the release of the Snowden documents.

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Kenneth Page's picture

The proliferation of private companies across the world developing, selling and exporting surveillance systems used to violate human rights and facilitate internal repression has been largely due to the lack of any meaningful regulation.

But a huge step toward finally regulating this billion-dollar industry was taken this week, when on Wednesday night the 41 countries that make up the Wassenaar Arrangement, the key international instrument that imposes controls on the export of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies, released a statement describing their intention to finally clamp down on this trade.

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Eric King's picture

The recent revelations, made possible by NSA-whistleblower Edward Snowden, of the reach and scope of global surveillance practices have prompted a fundamental re- examination of the role of intelligence services in conducting coordinated cross-border surveillance.

The Five Eyes alliance of States – comprised of the United States National Security Agency (NSA), the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Canada’s Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), and New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) – is the continuation of an intelligence partnership formed in the aftermath of the Second World War. Today, the Five Eyes has infiltrated every aspect of modern global communications systems.

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Anna Crowe's picture

Through the Aiding Privacy project, Privacy International is promoting the development of international standards around data protection in the humanitarian and development fields and working with relevant organisations to make this happen.

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Anna Crowe's picture

The drive for accountability in aid spending has put humanitarian and development agencies under pressure to collect an ever-growing amount of data about those who receive their assistance. Donors also increasingly demand that new technologies are deployed to ensure aid reaches those it is targeted at; preventing people from fraudulently using refugees’ identities, for example, was a key motivation behind UNHCR’s recent introduction of biometric technology to register Syrian refugees in Jordan.

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Anna Fielder's picture

We, and other privacy advocates, have criticised the poor provisions of the so-called Safe Harbour agreement, which allows free transfers of personal information from European countries to companies in the United States that have signed up and promise to abide by its Principles. Now the European Commission, prompted by the recent mass surveillance scandals, has published an investigation into this agreement which provides overwhelming evidence that it is not fit for purpose. It urges the US authorities, with a number of concrete recommendations, to get their act together by next summer.

We welcome the recommendations but believe they just stick a plaster on an open wound. The only longterm solution is for US companies to respect EU privacy laws when handling EU citizen data or, better still, for the US to implement strong data protection laws for the benefit of all.

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Matthew Rice's picture

Let's be clear: private surveillance companies are not just selling a product. Companies do not merely pack their product into a box and put it in the post. More often than not, surveillance firms sell a consultancy service, one that actively provides pre-sale consultancy, installation of the product, and training on how to operate the technology. When the product breaks, companies often provide ongoing technical support, with some companies sending over of consultants for up to 18 months to provide in-depth support to agencies. A number of companies also operate 24/7 support lines for agencies to contact with their queries.

The consultancy services provided must not be overlooked. Indeed, it is just as dangerous as the technology itself and increases the level of complicity in the perpetration of human rights abuses between Western surveillance companies and the regimes that make up their customer base.

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