In its 2012 report on surveillance, Reporters Without Borders drew attention to several western companies that were guilty of selling surveillance technology to authoritarian governments that violate human rights. The same technology was on display in 2013 at arms trade fairs that attract industrialists and government representatives from the four corners of the planet.
ISS World (Intelligence Support Systems for Lawful Interception, Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Gathering) is an annual conference held in Dubai, Prague, Johannesburg, Brasilia, Washington or Kuala Lumpur. The right credentials are needed to attend. The official documentation says only the representatives of governments, law enforcement agencies and telecommunications service providers, and the vendors of interception, surveillance or network services are allowed to register. Journalists are not welcome.
The WikiLeaks “Spyfiles” on the 2012 ISS World revealed that it brought together 2,740 representatives of 1,507 different entities from 110 countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Iraq and Sudan. Gamma International was also there. WikiLeaks reported that Gamma’s representatives have visited Kazakhstan (161st in the 2014 press freedom index) and Ethiopia (143rd). Both countries are on the 2014 list of Enemies of the Internet. Jerry Lucas, the CEO of TeleStrategies, the firm that launched ISS World, said the final use of the technology on show at the conference was not his concern.
“The surveillance that we display in our conferences, and discuss how to use, is available to any country in the world,” Lucas said. “Do some countries use this technology to suppress political statements? Yes, I would say that’s probably fair to say. But who are the vendors to say that the technology is not being used for good as well as for what you would consider not so good? I mean, you can sell cars to Libyan rebels, and those cars and trucks are used as weapons. So should General Motors and Nissan wonder, ‘how is this truck going to be used?’ Why don’t you go after the automakers? It’s an open market. You cannot stop the flow of surveillance equipment.”
France hosted the 18th Milipol “internal state security” fair from 19 to 22 November 2013. Held annually in either France or Qatar and offering both conventional weapons and digital technology, this trade fair brings together arms companies and potential buyers. A total of 161 official delegations from 97 countries attended the 2013 fair. They included 18 government ministers, of whom Milipol named only three. Senior officials from Bahrain (ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index) rubbed shoulders with representatives from the ubiquitous Gamma International. Gamma’s FinFisher software suite, one of the most effective and intrusive software tools available, is already being used by the Bahraini government to spy on human rights activists.
More than 600 people from 59 countries participated in the Technology Against Crime (TAC) forum held in the French city of Lyon on 8-9 July 2013. French interior minister Manuel Valls and a score of government ministers from all over the world attended the opening. The forum’s sponsors and backers included Europol, the European Union and French arms and defence industry firms such as EADS and Thalès.
The technology on show at the TAC is supposed to be for use by police forces in combatting crime, including cyber-crime. The firms with stands at the 2013 TAC included the Gamma Group and Hacking Team, which were among the companies that Reporters Without Borders identified as “Enemies of the Internet” in its special report on surveillance. The Gamma Group presented its range of “IT intrusion” products designed for spying on computers and smartphones. Hacking Team offered law enforcement agencies a software suit for hacking into computers and phones.
The presence of representatives from China, Iran and Azerbaijan among those attending the TAC raises questions about the use of these technologies by law enforcement agencies in these countries, which are in the habit of hounding dissidents.
The kinds of surveillance technology sold at these arms fairs and forums belong to the category of “dual-use” products and services covered by the Wassenaar Arrangement. The purpose of this multilateral agreement is to regulate the export of both conventional weapons and a long list of goods and technologies that can be used for both peaceful and hostile purposes.
In late 2013, the Wassenaar Arrangement’s participating states agreed to add two categories to the list of controlled dual-use goods and technologies: “intrusion software” and “IP network surveillance systems.”
Participating states are supposed to control their exports of the listed dual-use goods and technologies, to exchange information about their exports and to exchange information about the legislation governing these exports that is in effect in their countries. But the Wassenaar Arrangement is not legally binding. Reporters Without Borders therefore urges the European Union to establish a more effective mechanism for controlling the exports of surveillance technologies.