Lawsuit threatened against government over export of surveillance equipment


Legal action has been threatened against the UK government over the granting of export licenses for surveillance equipment to countries with poor human rights records.

Social justice organization Global Justice Now (GJN) believes the licenses were granted contrary to export laws and has written to the government asking for more information to decide whether legal action may be necessary.

The surveillance equipment in question includes intrusion software, mobile telecommunications interception equipment and Internet protocol network communication surveillance equipment and could be used by importing countries for comprehensive and targeted surveillance.

Global Justice Now estimates that between January 1, 2016 and March 31, 2018, the Secretary of State granted export licenses for various surveillance equipment and technologies to a number of states with a history of domestic repression, including Turkey; Egypt; Bahrain; Honduras; the bucket ; the Philippines and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Many of the states identified have an established record of major violations of international human rights obligations, including the targeting of journalists, labor activists, bloggers or simply those who do not share the ruling regime’s political views. These people are often victims of harassment, imprisonment, torture or, in some cases, extrajudicial killings by or at the request of public authorities.

Export licensing of surveillance equipment is governed by the Export Control Act 2002 and guidelines under the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria . It is mandatory that the criteria be used by the Secretary of State to assess applications for export licenses for surveillance equipment.

The regulations stipulate that the government must assess the recipient country’s attitude to the relevant principles established by international human rights instruments. The government will then:

  1. not to grant a license if there is a clear risk that the articles will be used for internal repression;
  2. exercise particular caution and vigilance in granting licenses, on a case-by-case basis and taking into account the nature of the equipment, to countries where serious human rights violations have been observed by the competent bodies of the United Nations, the Council of Europe or by the European Union;
  3. not grant a license if there is a clear risk that the items will be used to commit a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

GJN believes that the government did not follow these regulations and therefore licensing to a number of states was illegal.

The group has asked the government to provide clarification on a number of issues, including how many licenses have been granted for surveillance equipment and to which countries; end users of monitoring equipment; how the Secretary of State assessed the human rights records of importing countries and how the decision was made that any licensing was in accordance with the consolidated arms export licensing criteria EU and national.

Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now, said:

“In its desperation to make Britain a post-Brexit great power, the UK government appears to have turned its surveillance technology licenses into a Wild West. No regime is too repressive or disreputable to receive dangerous products that allow it to maintain its grip on power and silence its opponents. This has serious implications for international controls on these products, and we want to reverse this trend, if necessary in court. We cannot allow post-Brexit Britain to sell dangerous equipment to whomever it wants to sign a trade agreement.

Rowan Smith, human rights lawyer at Leigh Day, said:

“Surveillance equipment can be just as harmful as bombs and bullets in repressing those who disagree with a certain regime or seek to expose human rights abuses. The power of surveillance equipment in our technology-driven world is immense and it is vital that the government follow the regulations set out in the law to ensure that our country does not assist others in committing human rights abuses. ‘man.


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