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Group calls for ban on spying technology sales

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By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 25 May 2011 at 11:17

A civil liberties coalition has called on the e-G8 forum to take action over the sale of snooping technologies used around the world to monitor communications on the internet.

The e-G8 forum was set up to debate net-related issues and any conclusions will be presented to heads of state at the G8 summit later this week.

The first day was dominated by a standoff between industry leaders and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, but in a statement submitted to the forum more than 40 civil liberties groups called for an end in the trade of eavesdropping technologies.

Repressive regimes are harnessing the internet’s power for their own purposes

“Many G8 countries are actively pursuing policies that would seek to restrict and control access; these policies legitimise actions of repressive regimes and threaten the core of the internet economy,” said the group, which included Privacy International and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

According to the group, G8 countries were behind sales of secret monitoring technologies to foreign governments, who used them to clamp down on activists.

“Repressive regimes are harnessing the internet’s power for their own purposes, often with the help of multinational corporations based in G8 countries. We urge you to end the sale of these technologies both at home and abroad, and put an end to these gross invasions of user privacy and security," the letter said.

“The increase of restrictive policies in both the developed and developing world is a regressive and deeply worrying trend.”

Industry stand-off

In the main forum, internet giants squared up to the French Government after President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened the industry with greater regulation if it crossed what he called a “red line”.

France has taken a hard line on internet regulation – with a three-strikes anti-piracy rule already in place – but in a thinly veiled threat Sarkozy called on the internet industry to pay greater respect to consumer privacy and other laws.

"Governments are the legitimate guardians of our societies and do not forget this," Sarkozy said. "You must know our red lines.”

“The universe that you represent is not a parallel universe which is free of rules of law or ethics or of any of the fundamental principles that must govern and do govern the social lives of our democratic states,” he said.

In response, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt claimed governments were too slow to react to new technologies.

"Technology will move faster than governments, so don't legislate before you understand the consequences,” he said.

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