Posts Tagged ‘BBC News’

BBC investigation on Arab States and import of cyber-surveillance tools

June 16, 2017

On 15 June 2017 the BBC came out with a special report on “How BAE sold cyber-surveillance tools to Arab states’A dancer tucks his Apple iPhone next to his traditional Omani dagger during a welcome ceremony in Muscat, Oman (5 November 2016).

A year-long investigation by BBC Arabic and a Danish newspaper [Dagbladet Information] has uncovered evidence that the UK defence giant BAE Systems has made large-scale sales across the Middle East of sophisticated surveillance technology, including to many repressive governments. These sales have also included decryption software which could be used against the UK and its allies. While the sales are legal, human rights campaigners and cyber-security experts have expressed serious concerns these powerful tools could be used to spy on millions of people and thwart any signs of dissent. The investigation began in the small Danish town of Norresundby, home to ETI, a company specialising in high-tech surveillance equipment. ETI developed a system called Evident, which enabled governments to conduct mass surveillance of their citizens’ communications. A former employee, speaking to the BBC anonymously, described how Evident worked. “You’d be able to intercept any internet traffic,” he said. “If you wanted to do a whole country, you could. You could pin-point people’s location based on cellular data. You could follow people around. They were quite far ahead with voice recognition. They were capable of decrypting stuff as well.”

 

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A video clip accompanying the article is to be found on the website of the BBC (see link below) and it features Ahmed Mansoor, the 2015 Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/21/ahmed-mansoor-mea-laureate-2015-arrested-in-middle-of-the-night-raid-in-emirates/]

One early customer of the new system was the Tunisian government. The BBC tracked down a former Tunisian intelligence official who operated Evident for the country’s veteran leader, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. “ETI installed it and engineers came for training sessions,” he explained. “[It] works with keywords. You put in an opponent’s name and you will see all the sites, blogs, social networks related to that user.” The source says President Ben Ali used the system to crack down on opponents until his overthrow in January 2011, in the first popular uprising of the Arab Spring. As protests spread across the Arab world, social media became a key tool for organisers. Governments began shopping around for more sophisticated cyber-surveillance systems – opening up a lucrative new market for companies like BAE Systems. In 2011, BAE bought ETI and the company became part of BAE Systems Applied Intelligence. Over the next five years, BAE used its Danish subsidiary to supply Evident systems to many Middle Eastern countries with questionable human rights records (such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Morocco and Algeria).

 

“I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said more than 90% of the most active campaigners in 2011 have now vanished,” says Yahya Assiri, a former Saudi air force officer who fled the country after posting pro-democracy statements online.  “It used to be that ‘the walls have ears’, but now it’s ‘smartphones have ears,‘” says Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi women’s rights activist who also now lives abroad. “No country monitors its own people the way they do in the Gulf countries. They have the money, so they can buy advanced surveillance software.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/13/five-women-human-rights-defenders-from-the-middle-east/]

Manal al-Sharif
Manal al-Sharif says Gulf states have the money to buy advanced surveillance equipment‘Responsible trading’

….The BBC has obtained a 2015 email exchange between the British and Danish export authorities in which the British side clearly expresses concern about this capability with reference to an Evident sale to the United Arab Emirates. “We would refuse a licence to export this cryptanalysis software from the UK because of Criteria 5 concerns,” says the email. [“Criteria 5” refers to the national security of the UK and its allies.]…Despite British objections, the Danish authorities approved the Evident export…..

…….Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake is one of the few European politicians prepared to discuss concerns about surveillance technology exports. She says European countries will ultimately pay a price for the compromises now being made. “Each and every case where someone is silenced or ends up in prison with the help of EU-made technologies I think is unacceptable,” she told the BBC. “I think the fact that these companies are commercial players, developing these highly sophisticated technologies that could have a deep impact on our national security, on people’s lives, requires us to look again at what kind of restrictions maybe be needed, what kind of transparency and accountability is needed in this market before it turns against our own interest and our own principles.

Source: How BAE sold cyber-surveillance tools to Arab states – BBC News

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2017 (1): Are we heading towards a ‘post human rights world’?

January 11, 2017

The start of a new year is often the occasion to make some broader analysis. So it is with the issue of human rights defenders. I have collected some of the more interesting and will report on these in the days to come.

The first is an article (30 December 2016) by ith more states seemingly reluctant to honour human rights treaties – whether we are “heading towards a ‘post human rights world‘?:

A man looks at one of the first documents published by the United Nations, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Image copyright THREE LIONS/GETTY IMAGES

With an increasing number of states seemingly reluctant to honour human rights treaties, is there a future for this type of international agreement? “We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the UN, and in the life of mankind.” With these words, Eleanor Roosevelt presented the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the United Nations. It was 1948 and UN member states, determined to prevent a repeat of the horrors of World War Two, were filled with idealism and aspiration…… Mrs Roosevelt’s prophecy that the declaration would become “the international magna carta of all men everywhere” appeared to have been fulfilled.

But fast forward almost 70 years, and the ideals of the 1940s are starting to look a little threadbare. Faced with hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers at their borders, many European nations appear reluctant to honour their obligations to offer asylum. Instead, their efforts, from Hungary’s fence to the UK’s debate over accepting a few dozen juvenile Afghan asylum seekers, seem focused on keeping people out. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, president-elect Donald Trump, asked during the election campaign whether he would sanction the controversial interrogation technique known as “waterboarding”, answered ‘I’d do much worse… Don’t tell me it doesn’t work, torture works… believe me, it works.” And in Syria, or Yemen, civilians are being bombed and starved, and the doctors and hospitals trying to treat them are being attacked.

Donald Trump
 Image copyrightDREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

 Little wonder then, that in Geneva, home to the UN Human Rights Office, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, there is talk of a “post human rights” world. “There’s no denying that we face enormous challenges: the roll-back that we see on respect for rights in western Europe, and potentially in the US as well,” says Peggy Hicks, a director at the UN Human Rights Office. Just around the corner, at the ICRC, there is proof that those challenges are real. A survey carried out this summer by the Red Cross shows a growing tolerance of torture. Thirty-six per cent of those responding believed it was acceptable to torture captured enemy fighters in order to gain information. What’s more, less than half of respondents from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, among them the US and the UK, thought it was wrong to attack densely populated areas, knowing that civilians would be killed. More than a quarter thought that depriving civilians of food, water and medicine was an inevitable part of war.

For ICRC President Peter Maurer these are very worrying figures. “Even in war, everyone deserves to be treated humanely,” he explains. “Using torture only triggers a race to the bottom. It has a devastating impact on the victims, and it brutalises entire societies for generations.” But how many people are listening, outside the Geneva beltway? Peggy Hicks attempts an explanation as to why attitudes to human rights may be changing.

“When confronted with the evil we see in the world today, it doesn’t surprise me that those who might not have thought very deeply about this [torture] might have a visceral idea that this might be a good idea.” But across Europe and the United States, traditional opinion leaders, from politicians to UN officials, have been accused of being out of touch and elitist. Suggesting that some people just haven’t thought deeply enough about torture to understand that it is wrong, could be part of the problem. “I do think the human rights community, myself included, have had a problem with not finding language that connects with people in real dialogue,” admits Ms Hicks. “We need to do that better, I fully acknowledge that.”

What no one in Geneva seems to want to contemplate, however, is that the principles adopted in the 1940s might just not be relevant anymore. They are good, so Geneva thinking goes, just not respected enough. “We aren’t looking for an imaginary fairytale land,” insists Tammam Aloudat, a doctor with the medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres. “We are looking for the sustaining of basic guarantees of protection and assistance for people affected by conflict.” Dr Aloudat is concerned that changing attitudes, in particular towards medical staff working in war zones, will undermine those basic guarantees. He was recently asked why MSF staff do not distinguish between wounded who are civilians, and those who might be fighters, who, if treated, would simply return to the battlefield.

“This is absurd, anyone without a gun deserves to be treated… We have no moral authority to judge their intentions in the future.” Extending the analogy, he suggested that doctors or aid workers could end up being asked not to treat, or feed, children, in case they grew up to be fighters. “It’s an illegal, unethical and immoral view of the world,” he says. “Accepting torture, or deprivation, or siege, or war crimes as inevitable, or ok if they get things done faster is horrifying, and I wouldn’t want to be in a world where that’s the norm.”

And Peggy Hicks warns against hasty criticism of current human rights law, in the absence of any genuine alternatives. “When we look at the alternatives there really aren’t any,” she said. “Whatever flaws there may be in our current framework, if you don’t have something to replace it with, you better be awfully careful about trying to tear it down.”

Source: Are we heading towards a ‘post human rights world’? – BBC News

Good Breaking News: Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh among freed political prisoners

September 18, 2013

Today, 18 September 2013, the BBC and other news media brought the good news that Iran lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh is among the freed political prisoners which Iran is reported to have freed (at least eight). Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested in 2010 and jailed for six years on charges of acting against national security. She was one of the three Final Nominees of the MEA in 2012 and winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov award.NASRIN_SOTOUDEH_PORTRAIT

The release of the political prisoners comes just days before Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani visits New York for the UN General Assembly. In his election campaign, he promised to free political prisoners.

via BBC News – Iran lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh among freed political prisoners.