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EU adopts strong position on surveillance export controls

European Parliament adopts strong position on surveillance export controls to protect human rights

Brussels, BE—Yesterday, the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA) adopted a strong position on the EU dual-use recast. This develops on the European Commission proposal presented on 28 September 2016. Whereas the EU Commission proposal was deeply focused on controlling the export of cyber-surveillance technologies and modernisation of existing control provisions of the EU licensing architecture, members of INTA sought to extend the scope of the controls further. The objective of the adopted position is to restrict companies from exporting products which could be used for surveillance and threaten individual’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

"Access Now applauds the INTA Committee's commitment to bringing transparency and accountability to this grey and damaging industry," said Lucie Krahulcova, EU Policy Analyst at Access Now."The Commission and Parliament's efforts to bring attention to the impact of different types of technology on freedom of expression and privacy is laudable and should be broadly supported throughout the trialogue with the Council."

The new regulation could be a keystone for the European Parliament and others who have been arguing for the need to centralise and tighten the EU’s rules for export controls, which have been failing to protect individuals around the world from abuses of EU technology. For this reason, Access Now was and will remain supportive of both of the Commission's initiative and the Parliament's efforts in creating stronger rules for EU’s export controls, and we urge the Council to work with all stakeholders in order to accomplish a comprehensive position as the regulation moves through the trialogue.

Last May, Access Now together with Amnesty International, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Digitale Gesellschaft, Elektronisk Forpost Norge (EFN), Foundation for Information Policy Research, International Federation for Human Rights, Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights, Liberty, Privacy International, and Reporters Without Borders released a shared statement calling for strong human rights safeguards and clear security research exemptions as the EU updates its dual-use regulation.

Alongside other civil society groups, Access Now has called for the legislators to include strong transparency provisions in the new proposal which would force national Export Controls Authorities to disclose to which companies and to what products they grant export licenses. This measure should help rein in countries that have previously allowed dual-use surveillance technologies to be exported to countries with poor human rights records as well as stop the relocation of companies (or their sister entities) to countries known to hand out licenses more generously.

The inadequacies of the EU’s existing approach continue to be highlighted through news reports and local NGO groups which are finding it impossible to push through the bureaucracy of export controls to highlight the system’s failures. Over the past year we have covered the Danish complacency over a minimal application of the EU rules in their regime, as well as Italy’s drawn-out process to deal with Area S.p.A. which was found to be circumventing Italy’s application of the regime through an undercover Al-Jazeera investigation. These are just two cases in a long line of revelations, and they serve as perfect examples of how the existing EU framework fails to protect activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and regular users from the detrimental impact of dual-use cyber-surveillance technology.

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