Export Controls for Digital Weapons

By EDRi · December 19, 2012

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Exportbeschränkungen für digitale Waffen |]

While the European Governments often praise the positive role the
Internet can have on the society in helping empower people and promoting
freedom of information and expression, European mass surveillance and
censorship software is being exported under their watch. Some
governments not only fail to enact controls, but even further the export
of such technology using export credit guarantees. Reporters Without
Borders Germany fights for a regime to stop the export of European
surveillance and censorship equipment to countries which oppress freedom
of information and the press.

Surveillance equipment is used, inter alia, to spy on journalists,
bloggers, citizen journalists, democracy activists and their sources,
friends and even loose contacts. Many suppliers of this surveillance
infrastructure are located in the European Union, names like Nokia
Siemens Networks, Gamma, Trovicor, Hacking Team and Bull / Amesys come
to mind. Those firms supplied equipment to Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain,
Morocco and many more countries that have systematically violated human
rights over the course of the last years. In all of these countries at
the time of the instalment of surveillance infrastructure there was no
press freedom and people were being tortured or imprisoned for
criticizing the government., a Moroccan independent media site, launched after the
Arab Spring discovered that they were being spied on by “government
grade spyware” only eleven days after they had been awarded the
“Breaking Borders Award” by Global Voices and Google. Different Media
outlets reported that software by the Italian firm “Hacking Team” has
been used to snoop on the journalists’ files, emails and even Skype

Reporters Without Borders believes that digital source protection is
one of the most relevant issues for modern journalism. All journalists
should be aware how important it is to store sensitive information in a
secure way, to make sure they do not risk their sources’ lives or
well-being. The possibility to encrypt emails, hard drives and use
anonymous forms of communication is one of the key elements to a free
press. This requires additional training and awareness raising as well
as strong privacy and press freedom laws. That is why Reporters Without
Borders Germany rejects the EU Data Retention Regime and other means of
Internet surveillance, be it in the EU or outside.

Today the EU has placed restrictions on the export of such surveillance
equipment to Libya and Iran, but still lacks general rules and
procedures. In August, Reporters Without Borders Germany urged the
German government to take action and enact a regime that bans the export
and trade of Digital Weapons made in Germany. Later, we also appealed to
the EU-Commission to amend the EU Dual Use regulation accordingly. The
new “Strategy for Digital Freedoms in EU Foreign Policy” adopted by the
European Parliament in early December 2012 calls on the EU-Commission to
propose legislation to control the export of Digital Arms and enact Net
Neutrality. We welcome this resolution and hope for subsequent legislation.

Ben Wagner – Exporting Censorship and Surveillance Technology (01.2012)

How Government-Grade Spy Tech Used A Fake Scandal To Dupe Journalists

Position paper of the Reporters Without Borders on export of the German
surveillance technology (28.08.2012)

Position paper of Reporters without Borders on the
export of European surveillance technology (6.11.2012)

Report on a Digital Freedom Strategy in EU Foreign Policy

EU: Enact Controls on Digital Weapons Trade (11.12.2012),43780.html
German version:

(Contribution by Hauke Gierow – Reporters Without Borders Germany)