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Selling surveillance equipment to vile regimes

New Statesman
Publication date: 
David Allen Green
Original story link: 

Back in April, the campaign group Privacy International wrote to the prime minister. The Guardian reported that:

"In a letter to Privacy International, Downing Street said the government was "actively looking at this issue" and was working within the EU to introduce new controls on surveillance."

But since then, there has not been a substantive word from the government.

It is correct that certain export controls can be agreed at EU level, and that this may be an ideal.  However, the Export Controls Act 2002 provides power for the Secretary of State to make provision of export controls for goods and technical assistance which facilitates internal repression in any country or breaches human rights (sections 1, 3 and 5 of the 2002 Act and paragraphs 3(2)D(c) and (d) of the Schedule to the Act).  But the Secretary of State has not exercised this power to prohibit exports of surveillance technology.

Privacy International has now instructed their lawyers Bhatt Murphy to write to the Secretary of State threatening an application for judicial review in respect of the failure to prohibit exports of surveillance technology under the Export Controls 2002.  Ambitiously, Privacy International has even given the government the ultimatum of bringing in such a prohibition within 21 days, or face legal action at the High Court.