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Syria: New report highlights the complicity of multinational tech companies in the regime's human rights violations

A new report published by Access Now and UIC John Marshall Law School International Human Rights Clinic documents the systematic use of mass surveillance by the Syrian regime and how this surveillance violates the human rights of the Syrian people. the report outlines the involvement of multinational tech companies in the implementation the state’s mass surveillance. The report further details how the Syrian regime controls Syria’s online space, monitors dissenters, endanger freedom of expression, access to information, and personal safety of millions of Syrians. It also provides an overview of the infrastructure of surveillance and key state and state-sanctioned actors involved in surveillance activities.

According to the report, the Syrian regime’s surveillance campaign has been facilitated by infrastructure and platforms created by foreign multinational companies such as the U.S. cybersecurity company Blue Coat, the Italian company Area SpA, South African MTN.

The report alleges that the technologies provided by these companies have facilitated censorship and surveillance which have led to human rights violations against activist and human rights defenders including torture, forced disappearance and death of Syrian people and human rights defenders. The allegations date between 2007 and 2012 and have been highlighted in a number of previous reports such as the ones by bloomberg and Freedom House. The Business & Human Resource Centre invited the US company Blue Coat to respond to the raised allegations and the company provided a response stating that "the company was aware of the presence of its appliances in Syria and were actively cooperating with the U.S. government since 2011 as part of its investigation into the illegal transfer of the company's products to Syria by third parties..."

The report also provides that supporters of the Syrian regime have been using Facebook community standard to target and remove posts and pages that document human rights violations in Syria. Facebook has regularly removed the accounts of human rights activists in Syria since 2012. Moreover, in June 2020 Facebook deleted nearly 10,000 accounts belonging to regime opposition activists and political opponents. A report by Freedom House in 2019 provided that "Representatives from Facebook have cited the difficulties of distinguishing between legitimate and fabricated complaints, particularly since many armed extremists use the platform".