Dutch MP wants ban on sales of surveillance tech to despotic regimes

An EU commissioner shares concerns over the sale of certain technologies to human rights violators

The Dutch Green party has called for a change in the law so that sales of surveillance technology would be banned to countries that violate human rights, with the European commissioner for the digital agenda saying that she shares those concerns.

GroenLinks MP Arjan el Fassed made the call on Tuesday, saying that the situation was urgent and a licensing system should be introduced. Dutch member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake has also said that tough rules should apply to the whole European Union.

"We share concerns about the selling of surveillance tools to despotic regimes. We also want to ensure companies take an active responsibility for their actions. This is both a legal issue and a moral issue. Industry has to decide where they stand and come up with concrete solutions. We are ready to help such a process with expertise and operational support," said Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

But Schaake believes that voluntary measures are not enough. "We cannot just trust them on their good intentions because businesses are in the business of making money. And sometimes this is at the expense of any respect for human rights. Governments don't know and don't have the tools to find out what these companies are doing exactly. They operate completely below the radar," she said in December.

Many of the tech tools involved are so-called dual-use technologies that we use every day, such as mobile phones. But Schaake pointed out that there are also single-use technologies, specifically designed for the surveillance of individuals.

In the Netherlands, El Fassed asked for information from Dutch surveillance companies Group 2000 and Digivox about which countries they sell to. "It is good that the Netherlands is committed to an ad hoc authorization system at the European level, but nationally we need not wait. If the Netherlands wants to be a leader for Internet freedom, we must dare to set a good example," he said.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is calling for help in developing guidelines for corporate social responsibility. Three business sectors will be selected for which "detailed guidance on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights is most needed and can add greatest value."

Suggestions and an explanation why guidelines are needed should be submitted by any interested parties by Jan. 27. More information can be found at the Institute for Human Rights and Business website.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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