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Right means, wrong ends
Export of surveillance equipment to authoritarian governments must be curbed as it is prone to widespread misuse

Dramatic sequences of surveillance use using complex and intricate gadgetry are very common fare in Hollywood blockbusters. What they show is not totally out of tune with reality as most repressive regimes use such equipment to control protests & opposition and to suppress rebellion. Their use is tantamount to gross human rights violations. With the rising demand, this $70 billion surveillance industry is growing at an impressive 7.4% rate with Middle East and China being the biggest markets.

US is selling these gadgets to Middle East which presents a real risk that they could get into Iran’s hands, which can be dangerous for America’s own interests. Further, if a neighbouring country of Iran uses it, the latter can also tap its signals and use it against Western interests. Already, Syria is using America-made surveillance equipment supplied by California-based Blue Coat System in spite of trade sanctions – angering dissidents who are fighting Assad’s government. Again, in spite of American prohibition and norms laid down for selling crime control equipment to China, US firms like Cisco (Human Rights Law Foundation alleges that Cisco helped China build a firewall for internet censorship & spy on dissidents) have set up base there and are selling customised surveillance gadgets to Beijing. European countries like Italy, Germany, Netherlands and Spain have sold them to oppressive countries like China, Turkmenistan, Israel and Columbia respectively. A recent Bloomberg report suggests that EU’s sale of surveillance monitoring systems to Bahrain was used to monitor activities of dissidents.

This foreboding has led US to push for a fresh legislation to bar export of surveillance equipment manufactured in the country to tyrannical regimes. It’s high time they put that thought to action on the ground.


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