UK Supplies Spyware and Telecoms Interception Devices to Countries With Repressive Regimes

News and Analysis

The government of the United Kingdom is reportedly selling spyware, wiretaps, and other surveillance equipment to countries with repressive regimes, so they could spy on dissidents. This reportedly goes contrary to the rules under which the UK should not supply security devices to governments that might deploy it for internal repression.

According to The Independent, UK ministers have made deals accounting for over £75 million ($93.8 million) in such exports since 2015. They provided the equipment in question to 17 totalitarian states, including China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, with the latter being the major recipient of licenses totaling £11.5 million ($14.3 million).

Emily Thornberry, a British politician and a member of the Labour Party, told The Independent that the government has to show how it assesses risks associated with the above-mentioned cases and how the equipment is used and added:

“The government has a legal and moral duty to ensure exports from Britain are not used by other countries for the purposes of internal repression, and that risk should clearly be at the forefront of their mind when those countries have a track record of harassing political opponents and undermining democratic freedoms, and when the equipment concerned is ripe to be abused in that way.”

Governments are Spying on Dissidents and Activists

Governments spying on dissidents, journalists and activists is indeed a critical problem. Just recently, Amnesty Tech, a global collective of researchers, hackers, and advocates campaigning for human rights, claimed that Israeli tech company NSO Group committed another government-backed surveillance operation over journalists.

The government of Morocco used NSO’s technology to spy on Moroccan journalist Omar Radi, wherein Radi’s phone had been attacked with NSO’s Pegasus spyware designed to enable concerned parties to remotely spy on smartphones.

Back in 2017, Mexican activists, human rights lawyers, and journalists filed a criminal complaint after learning that their smartphones had been also attacked with Pegasus spyware. According to a report cited by the parties, the attorney general’s office and the defense ministry were among government organizations that purchased the software.

Earlier today, news broke that the “Spanish state” targeted Roger Torrent’s, speaker of the Catalan parliament and a regional MP for the Catalan Republican Left party, smartphone using Pegasus spyware.

So far, Amnesty International has failed to win the legal battle against NSO as the Tel Aviv District Court dismissed Amnesty’s petition to stop the spyware firm from exporting surveillance equipment. The court said that Amnesty could not prove NSO’s technology had been deployed to spy on its members.

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