07 April 2015

Technologies can empower people, strengthen democratisation and promote and protect human rights. However, technology can also be used to repress people and to violate human rights. Reports show that European companies play a central role in the proliferation of dangerous surveillance and intrusion technologies around the world. These technologies have in the past been exported all over the world almost freely and research has shown that they have often been used to violate human rights and digital freedoms.

Not only are these technologies detrimental to human rights, they also pose a significant threat to European strategic interests and our digital infrastructure.

The EU and the member states are finally slowly waking up to the dangers and problems surrounding the unregulated export of dangerous technologies and the export control list has recently been adapted which makes it harder to export certain technologies. However, we are still waiting for an urgently needed comprehensive proposal from the Commission for an update of the export control policy to make it more coherent, more centralised and more effective.

At the same time it is crucial to make sure that the right products are controlled, so that we do not hamper exchange of information, research or prevent the export of technologies which could actually protect human rights. We need a smart implementation of export control policies to make sure that we can safeguard human rights and digital freedoms and protect our own strategic interests.

Marietje Schaake, MEP and EIF Steering Committee Member, initiated and chaired this EIF debate focusing on export of such technologies. In her opening remarks she cited ways that technologies can be used against citizens, notably through mass surveillance and unauthorized access to personal devices. She called for Europe to take responsibility in making sure that human and other rights of technology users are not forgotten not only in Europe but also in countries European companies trade with.

Edin Omanovic, Resident export control expert at Privacy International, stressed that there are still European companies trading in mass surveillance systems and technologies with third countries known for human rights violations, as for example the situation in Ethiopia, where the government is acquiring surveillance capabilities which will allow it to monitor citizens in the future. This recent report by Privacy International shows that the Ethiopian government is buying such technologies from European companies: Ethiopia expands surveillance capacity with German tech via Lebanon.

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