Amesys – Complicity in torture: surveillance tech export control needed

By EDRi · May 23, 2012

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Deutsch: [Amesys’ Mittäterschaft bei Folterungen: Kontrolle des Exports von Überwachungstechnologien gefordert |]

The Paris Court Prosecutor decided on 21 May 2012 to probe the Amesys
company, a BULL’s subsidiary, over complicity of torture in Libya under
Kadhafi. The investigation, which follows a criminal complaint jointly
filed by the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) and
its French member LDH in October 2011, is conducted by Céline
Hildenbrandt, a judge from the Paris Court section specialized in crimes
against humanity, genocides and war crimes.

Amesys, a French technology company specialized in security systems and
acquired in 2010 by BULL, is accused by FIDH and LDH of “offences
committed through the provision to the Kadhafi regime, from 2007, of a
surveillance system to monitor communications of the Libyan people.” The
company objected again to this accusation, as it did in September 2011
after the scandal started. Amesys claimed that its contract with the
Libyan authorities was concluded in 2007, “at a time when the
international community was in the process of diplomatic rapprochement
with Libya, which was looking to fight against terrorism and acts
perpetrated by Al Qaeda”. “All Amesys’ business dealings comply
rigorously with the legal and regulatory requirements set out in
international, European and French conventions”, the company added.

These justifications were a tentative to respond to the evidence
initially provided by the Wall Street Journal regarding the use of
Amesys software by Libyan agents to monitor the Libyan population,
spying on their emails and chats. The WSJ journalists revealed how they
found files containing intercepted communications and a training manual
for Amesys surveillance software called Eagle, in an abandoned Internet
monitoring center in Tripoli, right after the collapse of the Kadhafi’s
regime in end August 2011. In March 2012, BULL announced that it was
putting on sale its subsidiary’s activities related to Eagle, a software
for Internet communication interceptions. BULL argued that these
activities were not strategic, and the Eagle software was “originally
designed to chase paedophiles, terrorists and drug traffickers”, which
is yet another example of the mission creep risk conveyed by
technologies and policies initially justified by legitimate purposes. As
of today, these activities are still on sale, and Amesys is still a BULL

According to FIDH and LDH, the opening of the probe will allow to shed
light both on companies helping through commercial agreements
dictatorial regimes to reinforce the repression of their populations and
on the crimes committed under Kadhafi’s regime. One may also expect that
the investigation will explore the role of the French government, under
Sarkozy’s presidency (2007-2012), in the selling of surveillance
software to Libya and other authoritarian countries by French technology
companies. Back in March this year, the former French government stated
that the technology sold by Amesys was not categorized as conventional
arms nor even as dual-use goods and technologies, which export is
controlled according to the Wassenaar Arrangement, and thus it was not
aware of Amesys’ technology export.

While this judicial investigation is related to a specific case, its
opening strengthens the need for political steps to be taken by
governments, in order to strictly regulate commercial exports of
surveillance systems by commercial companies, especially those
established in States championing human rights – if only in their
official discourse.

In December 2011, Wikileaks published, in cooperation with various
newspapers and NGOs, a full set of brochures and manuals of surveillance
software and tools from Amesys as well as from other companies, showing
how diversified, extended and powerful are these systems, sold by
Western (and non Western) companies to authoritarian regimes all over
the world, and used as well in so-called democratic countries.

It is now time to seriously consider strong political and legal measures
for the control of surveillance technologies, software and equipments,
at the design, development, selling on national markets or exporting,
and use steps. The European Union should take the lead in this process,
and the joint initiative taken by Nelly Kroes (EC Vice-President
responsible for the Digital Agenda) and Catherine Ashton (EU High
Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) with the “No
Disconnect Strategy” could be a perfect vehicle to identify, with all
relevant actors, appropriate measures at the European and Global levels
to be taken in this respect.

FIDH-LDH Press Release: “Amesys case referred to French Justice”
(22.05.2012, only in French)

French firm Amesys probed over “complicity in torture” (22.05.2012)

BULL faces again the Amesys Scandal (22.05.2012, only in French)

Libya: Amesys objects to the complicity of torture accusation
(22.05.2012, only in French)

Wikileaks’s publication of ‘The Spy Files’ (01.12.2011)

Amesys press release (01.09.2011)

Firms Aided Libyan Spies (30.08.2011)

FIDH-LDH Press Release: ‘FIDH and LDH file a complaint concerning the
responsability of the company AMESYS in relation to acts of torture’

Wassenaar Arrangement


EC joint Communication on “A Partnership For Democracy And Shared
Prosperity With The Southern Mediterranean” (08.03.2011)

EC Workshop on FIRE and the “No Disconnect Strategy” (07.05.2012)

(Contribution by Meryem Marzouki (EDRI member IRIS – France)