Profits Over Rights as UK Sells Spy Gear to Repressive Regimes

Members of the Saudi special police unit perform during a parade. (Photo: Getty)

Profits Over Rights as UK Sells Spy Gear to Repressive Regimes

'What’s needed is that human rights considerations take precedence over financial incentives and security relationships.'

The UK government is signing off on the sales of advanced surveillance technologies to repressive regimes that it has admonished for human rights abuses, the Independent exclusively reported Wednesday.

The information about the sales to countries, which include Saudi Arabia and Egypt, was found by London-based surveillance watchdog Privacy International. The records of surveillance equipment sales, the paper reports, are available for the first time because of new regulations that now require them to be included in the government's list of export licenses.

Edin Omanovic, a research officer at Privacy International, tweeted that the licenses for mobile interception equipment in the first 9 months of 2015 were worth more than PS10 million ($14 million):

He told the Independent that, "similar to UK policy on arms exports, what's needed is that human rights considerations take precedence over financial incentives and security relationships."

The equipment covered a range of technologies, the Independent reports, from "'intrusion software', which allows its users to look in on electronic devices and control them," to "IMSI catchers, which can be used to find mobile phones and intercept messages and calls that are sent through them," to "'IP monitoring systems,' which can be used to allow authorities and regimes to run nationwide monitoring and surveillance programs on a country's' entire internet."

Omanovic said such technologies "would allow some of the most authoritarian countries in the world to carry out mass, suspicion-less surveillance and gain unlimited access to anyone's private communications and devices."

The revelation comes the same month as the UK-based organization Campaign Against Arms Trade, represented by law firm Leigh Day, threatened (pdf) legal action over the UK government's decision to export arms to Saudi Arabia in the face of evidence of the latter's violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen, including evidence of its targeting of civilians and civilian facilities.

"The UK government is under a clear legal obligation to ensure any military equipment and/or technology exported from this country to another, is not being used in breach of international humanitarian law," stated Rosa Curling of Leigh Day.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday also called for a halt in UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia in the wake of a UN investigation that found "widespread and systematic" attacks on civilian targets in Yemen in violation of international humanitarian law.

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