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UK faces legal action over snooping software sales


By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 23 Jul 2012 at 12:25

Privacy International has threatened the UK government with legal action for "turning a blind eye" to UK sales of snooping technologies to regimes that use them against their citizens.

According to the campaign group, British companies are supplying technologies for monitoring web access to oppressive regimes, and UK officials are not adequately applying export control laws.

In a letter sent from PI's lawyers to the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, the group claimed there was "no substantive progress in the implementation in the UK of export controls".

The letter, seen by PC Pro, gave the government 21 days to alter its position or PI will ask for an injunction and call for a judicial review of whether the UK's sale of snooping technologies complies with the Export Control Act 2002.

The government must stop exports of British surveillance technologies to despotic regimes before more harm is done

"British companies have been peddling their wares to repressive regimes for years now," said Eric King, head of research at Privacy International. "Publicly condemning the abuses of dictators like [Syria's] Al-Assad while turning a blind eye to the fact that British technologies may be facilitating these abuses is the worst kind of hypocrisy. The government must stop exports of British surveillance technologies to despotic regimes before more harm is done."

21-day deadline

The letter cited products made by Andover-based Gamma International as an example, saying its software and services were used in Egypt and Turkmenistan to monitor both computer and mobile phone use, but said other companies were also selling similar products.

"Text message and call records retrieved in this way have been presented to victims during subsequent torturous interrogations," PI said.

Gamma couldn't be reached for comment at the time of publishing.

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