UK criticised for selling spyware and wiretaps to 17 repressive regimes including Saudi Arabia and China

July 13, 2020

Jon Stone in the Independent of 13 july 2020 wrote about the UK Government being urged to explain £75m exports to countries rated ‘not free’. The British government is providing more than a dozen repressive regimes around the world with wiretaps, spyware and other telecommunications interception equipment they could use to spy on dissidents, public records show. Despite rules saying the UK should not export security goods to countries that might use them for internal repression, ministers have signed off more than £75m in such exports over the past five years to states rated “not free” by the NGO Freedom House.

The 17 countries include China, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as the United Arab Emirates, which was the biggest recipient of licences totalling £11.5m alone since 2015….One such beneficiary of the UK’s exports is Hong Kong, which had a £2m shipment approved last year despite ongoing repression of pro-democracy protests. The Philippines, where police extrajudicial killings are rampant, has also provided steady business for British firms hawking surveillance systems.,,

A government spokesperson said blandly : “The government takes its export responsibilities seriously and assesses all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria. We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria.” But Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s programme director for military, security and police affairs, said the UK did not seem to be undertaking proper risk assessments when selling such equipment and said the government’s controls were becoming “notorious” for their “faulty decision-making”

With numerous human rights defenders arrested and jailed in countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey in the past five years, there’s a greater need than ever for the UK to be absolutely scrupulous in assessing the risk of UK telecoms technology being used unlawfully against human rights activists, journalists, and peaceful opposition figures.

“It’s just not clear that the UK is undertaking proper risk assessments when selling this equipment, and it’s not clear whether UK officials are making any effort to track how the equipment is used in one, two or three years’ time.

This week international trade secretary Liz Truss announced the UK would be resuming arms exports to Saudi Arabia, after a court had previously ordered that they were suspended. The government said it had reviewed claims that Saudi forces in Yemen had breached international humanitarian law and said any possible breaches were “isolated incidents” because they had happened in different places and different ways.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said the sale of the spying equipment raised “serious questions and concerns”.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/14/beyond-whatsapp-and-nso-how-human-rights-defenders-are-targeted-by-cyberattacks/

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-spyware-wiretaps-saudi-arabia-china-bahrain-uae-human-rights-a9613206.html

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