AFET Committee adopts its Report on Human rights and technology

By EDRi · July 1, 2015

The European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) adopted its Report on “Human rights and technology: the impact of intrusion and surveillance systems on human rights in third countries” on 26 May 2015. The Rapporteur, Marietje Schaake (ALDE, Netherlands) welcomed the adoption of the Report and stressed that “the European Union must assess the impact on human rights when it comes to the use and trade of harmful technologies, and where needed develop regulations urgently”. The Report will be voted at the plenary session of the European Parliament on 9 July.

The Report aimed at providing input in order to help create smart European legislation which deals adequately with all the concerns, but at the same time takes into account new technological solutions. Appropriate technology tools could generate enormous opportunities in helping to strengthen human rights. However, some of those tools can also be used to try to maintain or reinforce injustices. Thus, there is a growing need to ensure the safety and security of citizens, bearing in mind the fact we are living in a world of globalised surveillance. Specifically, human rights defenders and whistleblowers are usually the main targets of surveillance by state authorities, but also by non-state actors.

“Technologies can help advance human rights such as access to information and freedom of expression. Yet, too many surveillance and intrusion technologies are being produced in Europe and sold to enable human rights violations,” said Schaake. European companies are selling mass surveillance or censorship equipment to third countries, like Bahrain, Syria or Egypt, where their technology is being used to oppress human rights defenders and political activists. In 2014 Privacy International filed a complaint against Gamma International, a British-German company, calling for an urgent investigation of the unlawful surveillance of three Bahraini activists by Bahrain authorities using surveillance technology provided by Gamma International. Similarly, in 2012, a French company Qosmos was accused of selling surveillance products to the Syrian government, in a complaint lodged by International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

The Rapporteur invited a wide group of stakeholders including hackers, journalists, activists and lawyers to contribute to the Draft Report with their comments. EDRi was among this group of stakeholders. We provided input suggesting, among other things, the use of open source software, the need for net neutrality and clarifying the role of Internet intermediaries (privatised law enforcement). The Report, as adopted in the AFET Committee, presents a vital element in creating European regulatory and policy framework that controls the trade of surveillance technologies and prevents human rights violations related to it. Therefore, we are pleased to see that EDRi’s analysis and suggestions were included in the final text.

Report on ‘Human rights and technology: the impact of intrusion and surveillance systems on human rights in third countries’ (03.06.2015)

MEP Marietje Schaake calls for input on report Human rights and technology (09.02.2015.)

MEP: EU needs smart policies to strenghten human rights while technologies proliferate (26.05.2015)

Privacy International files criminal complaint on behalf of Bahraini activists targeted by spyware FinFisher (13.10.2014)

Surveillance technologies “Made in Europe”: Regulation needed to prevent human rights abuses, Position paper, FIDH

(Contribution by Morana Perušić, EDRi intern)