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Export Controls for Digital Weapons

19 December, 2012

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Exportbeschränkungen für digitale Waffen

While the European Governments often praise the positive role the Internet can have on the society in helping empower people and promoting freedom of information and expression, European mass surveillance and censorship software is being exported under their watch. Some governments not only fail to enact controls, but even further the export of such technology using export credit guarantees. Reporters Without Borders Germany fights for a regime to stop the export of European surveillance and censorship equipment to countries which oppress freedom of information and the press.

Surveillance equipment is used, inter alia, to spy on journalists, bloggers, citizen journalists, democracy activists and their sources, friends and even loose contacts. Many suppliers of this surveillance infrastructure are located in the European Union, names like Nokia Siemens Networks, Gamma, Trovicor, Hacking Team and Bull / Amesys come to mind. Those firms supplied equipment to Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Morocco and many more countries that have systematically violated human rights over the course of the last years. In all of these countries at the time of the instalment of surveillance infrastructure there was no press freedom and people were being tortured or imprisoned for criticizing the government., a Moroccan independent media site, launched after the Arab Spring discovered that they were being spied on by "government grade spyware" only eleven days after they had been awarded the "Breaking Borders Award" by Global Voices and Google. Different Media outlets reported that software by the Italian firm "Hacking Team" has been used to snoop on the journalists’ files, emails and even Skype conversations.

Reporters Without Borders believes that digital source protection is one of the most relevant issues for modern journalism. All journalists should be aware how important it is to store sensitive information in a secure way, to make sure they do not risk their sources’ lives or well-being. The possibility to encrypt emails, hard drives and use anonymous forms of communication is one of the key elements to a free press. This requires additional training and awareness raising as well as strong privacy and press freedom laws. That is why Reporters Without Borders Germany rejects the EU Data Retention Regime and other means of Internet surveillance, be it in the EU or outside.

Today the EU has placed restrictions on the export of such surveillance equipment to Libya and Iran, but still lacks general rules and procedures. In August, Reporters Without Borders Germany urged the German government to take action and enact a regime that bans the export and trade of Digital Weapons made in Germany. Later, we also appealed to the EU-Commission to amend the EU Dual Use regulation accordingly. The new "Strategy for Digital Freedoms in EU Foreign Policy" adopted by the European Parliament in early December 2012 calls on the EU-Commission to propose legislation to control the export of Digital Arms and enact Net Neutrality. We welcome this resolution and hope for subsequent legislation.

Ben Wagner - Exporting Censorship and Surveillance Technology (01.2012)

How Government-Grade Spy Tech Used A Fake Scandal To Dupe Journalists (20.08.2012)

Position paper of the Reporters Without Borders on export of the German surveillance technology (28.08.2012)

Position paper of Reporters without Borders on the export of European surveillance technology (6.11.2012)

Report on a Digital Freedom Strategy in EU Foreign Policy (15.11.2012)

EU: Enact Controls on Digital Weapons Trade (11.12.2012) German version:

(Contribution by Hauke Gierow - Reporters Without Borders Germany)



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