EU: Parliament approves stricter export rules to prevent human rights abuses through cyber technology

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2 February 2018

Europe’s role in spy-tech exports that led to torture and jail

Author: Marietje Schaake, Computer Weekly

The long-overdue update to the export controls of dual-use items was finally approved by the European Parliament in January. When implemented, the new measures will create extra checks before European companies that export cyber surveillance technologies to authoritarian regimes get a green light.   

Some critics have argued that the new measures are impossible to implement. But this is not the first time EU legislation has prohibited trade in items that are used to violate human rights. The EU recently updated its legislation to restrict the trade in tools used for torture and applying the death penalty.

Similarly, the EU banned the import of minerals from conflict zones, to prevent a trade that finances and prolongs human rights abuses. Many companies already have hundreds of compliance officers employed to ensure they export within the framework of laws.

We made the updated controls as targeted as possible, and sought to avoid any unintended negative security consequences. That is why the European Parliament amended the definition of cyber surveillance items to be covered by the regulation...

The goal of this reform process is simple: to strengthen the protection of people’s rights, also online...

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22 January 2018

European Parliament votes to restrict exports of surveillance equipment

Author: Bill Goodwin, Computer Weekly

European Parliament votes to tighten export controls to restrict supply of surveillance and encryption technology to states with poor human rights records amid fears British companies may not have to comply after Brexit...

The proposed changes to the EU dual use export control regime are likely to face opposition from the defence industry and governments, as the European Parliament and the European Commission prepare to negotiate their implantation with Europe’s 28 member states...

Member states will be required to assess the likely impact of surveillance technology on citizens’ right to privacy, freedom of speech, and freedom of association, in the destination country before they grant export licences – a significant step up from current levels of scrutiny.

The proposed rules contain safeguards, however, that will allow legitimate cyber security research to continue. Companies exporting products that are not specifically listed will be expected to follow the OECD’s “due diligence” guidelines if there is a risk they could support human rights violations...

Pressure groups have raised concerns that the UK may escape the proposed safeguards, aimed at stopping the export of surveillance equipment to countries with poor human rights records, because of Brexit...

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17 January 2018

MEPs approve export controls tailored to stop government surveillance

Author: Catherine Stupp, EURACTIV

MEPs approved stricter rules on Wednesday (17 January) to control how European companies export technologies including software that could be used for surveillance, and any products that may violate human rights.

The draft export rules on so-called dual use items drew a backlash from the tech industry, which argued that the legislation defines “human rights” too broadly and that companies will struggle to make sure their products cannot be misused. Dual use products can be used for either civilian or military purposes...

[A] broad majority of MEPs backed the bill, with 571 in favour, 29 opposed and 29 abstentions...

The legislation must still be approved in three-way talks between the Parliament, national governments and the Commission before it can go into effect...

[I]t could also close loopholes that create an imbalance between more lax national authorities in some member states and others that approve fewer exports. [also refers to BAE Systems, Google and Microsoft]

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16 January 2018

Cyber technology: preventing human rights abuses

Author: European Parliament

EU export controls are being revamped to ensure European goods and technologies, such as cyber-surveillance tools, cannot be used for human rights violations.

The EU has rules to ensure that goods and technologies produced for civilian use in Europe cannot be abused for other ends when being exported. These are also known as dual-use items as they can be used for both civilian and military applications, for example to develop weapons of mass destruction or commit terrorist acts... 

These rules are currently being updated to take into account new technological developments... One of the main changes is to prevent the abuse of cyber-surveillance technologies, which authoritarian regimes could use to spy on their own people, be it to hack computers or to intercept mobile phones. Parliament’s trade committee proposes to add clear-cut criteria and definitions to the regulation to strengthen the right to privacy, data and freedom of assembly. The committee also made other proposals such as introducing similar penalties for non-compliance across the EU.

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