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UK gov warned: Halt exports of spyware to brutal regimes or see Privacy International in court

Publisher: 
The Register
Publication date: 
24-Jul-2012
Author(s): 
Kelly Fiveash
Original story link: 

The grubby practice of allowing UK-stamped surveillance tech to be shipped to brutal regimes could land the British government in court to answer allegations of aiding human rights breaches.

London-based NGO Privacy International has repeatedly asked the UK to exercise existing powers under the Exports Control Act 2002 to help put a stop to commercialised made-in-Britain spook spyware being used to facilitate social and political repression.

But PI said today that its polite requests had so far been ignored. As a result, the organisation's lawyer has written a letter to Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) Vince Cable demanding action from the government.

"Privacy International has given the government 21 days to respond," the NGO said.

"If the government has failed to act by the time this deadline expires, Privacy International will file for judicial review and if appropriate seek an urgent injunction preventing British companies from maintaining and updating systems already previously sold to repressive regimes, and stopping any new exports in their tracks."

The Register asked Cable's office to respond to this story, but no one at the BIS had got back to us at time of publication.

It's likely, however, that PI's demands for a "substantive response" will be brushed aside, which means the matter could end up in court.

The charity's head of research, Eric King, said:

British companies have been peddling their wares to repressive regimes for years now. Publicly condemning the abuses of dictators like al-Assad while turning a blind eye to the fact that British technologies may be facilitating these abuses is the worst kind of hypocrisy. The government must stop exports of British surveillance technologies to despotic regimes before more harm is done.

A six-month PI investigation concluded late last year, exclusively covered by El Reg, showed how the practice of selling, installing and managing surveillance tech and comms control kit for vicious regimes had turned into a lucrative market.

The probe revealed some 150 international companies were now trading in that nascent sector. The majority of those outfits either did not exist 10 years ago, or else punted other products besides electronic snooping tools. PI estimated that the industry now commands a global price tag of around £3bn each year.

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