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In 1995 Privacy International published a report on the international trade in surveillance technology, focusing on the sale of technologies from developed to developing countries – and particularly to brutal and oppressive regimes intent on using them as tools of political control. Since then, thanks to the enormous profits involved and the failure of governments and regulatory bodies to intervene, this unethical (and in some cases unlawful) practice has escalated. In particular, we have seen an increasing number of European companies selling surveillance technology to human rights-violating governments in countries like Egypt, Libya, Syria and Iran.

This technology is used to track the activities of dissidents, human rights activists, journalists, student leaders, minorities, trade union leaders, and political opponents. It can also be used for monitoring entire populations. It allows the financial transactions, communications activity and geographic movements of millions of people to be captured, analyzed and transmitted cheaply and efficiently. The emerging information and communications infrastructures of developing countries can be hijacked for limitless surveillance purposes, and the information thereby collected facilitates unlawful interrogation practices, torture and extrajudicial executions.