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Human rights orgs ask OECD to investigate surveillance companies

13 February, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Überwachungsfirmen: Menschenrechtsorganisationen fordern OECD-Untersu...

In the beginning of February 2013 several human rights organisations, including Privacy International, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain Watch and Reporters without Borders, filed formal complaints against surveillance software firms Gamma International and Trovicor.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) National Contact Point (NCP) in the UK was asked to investigate Gamma International regarding the company’s potential complicity in serious human rights abuses in Bahrain and in Germany, the complaint was directed against Munich-based Trovicor.

In the opinion of the complainants, there are grounds to believe that the surveillance products and services provided by the two companies have led to human rights abuses in Bahrain, including arbitrary detention and torture, violations of the right to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association. It appears that the information gathered from intercepted phone and internet communications have been used to detain and torture bloggers, political dissidents and activists and to extract confessions from them. If the investigation concludes that the complaints have a real basis, the companies are likely to be found in breach of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises which sets out principles and standards for responsible business conduct.

“The failure of governments to properly control exports of surveillance technology has left companies like Gamma and Trovicor regulated exclusively by their own moral compasses. Unfortunately, these compasses seem to have malfunctioned and directed companies towards some of the most dangerous and repressive regimes in the world. We very much hope the OECD process will persuade Gamma and Trovicor to take a long hard look at their current and future clients, and to think carefully about the role their products play in the targeting and torture of activists and the suppression of pro-democracy voices,” stated Eric King, Head of Research at Privacy International.

Miriam Saage-Maaß, Vice Legal Director at ECCHR, said: “By maintaining permanent business relations with the state of Bahrain and maintaining their surveillance software, both companies have accepted the risk that they may be accused of abetting torture and other grave human rights violations. If true, such actions would amount to a violation of the OECD Guidelines.”

These are not the only companies involved in providing surveillance equipment to countries where freedom of expression is oppressed. Many suppliers, besides the two companies in question, such as Nokia Siemens Networks, Hacking Team and Bull / Amesys have supplied equipment to Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Morocco and many more countries that have violated human rights during the last years.

Human rights organisations filed formal complaints with the OECD against surveillance companies (4.02.2013),4...

Briefing note on OECD Complaints against Gamma International and Trovicor in the UK and Germany

Human rights organisations file formal complaints against surveillance firms Gamma International and Trovicor with British and German governments (3.02.2013)

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