Human rights orgs ask OECD to investigate surveillance companies

By EDRi · February 13, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Überwachungsfirmen: Menschenrechtsorganisationen fordern OECD-Untersuchung |]

In the beginning of February 2013 several human rights organisations,
including Privacy International, the European Center for
Constitutional and Human Rights, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights,
Bahrain Watch and Reporters without Borders, filed formal complaints
against surveillance software firms Gamma International and Trovicor.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development)
National Contact Point (NCP) in the UK was asked to investigate Gamma
International regarding the company’s potential complicity in serious
human rights abuses in Bahrain and in Germany, the complaint was
directed against Munich-based Trovicor.

In the opinion of the complainants, there are grounds to believe that
the surveillance products and services provided by the two companies
have led to human rights abuses in Bahrain, including arbitrary
detention and torture, violations of the right to privacy, freedom of
expression and freedom of association. It appears that the information
gathered from intercepted phone and internet communications have been
used to detain and torture bloggers, political dissidents and activists
and to extract confessions from them. If the investigation concludes
that the complaints have a real basis, the companies are likely to be
found in breach of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
which sets out principles and standards for responsible business conduct.

“The failure of governments to properly control exports of surveillance
technology has left companies like Gamma and Trovicor regulated
exclusively by their own moral compasses. Unfortunately, these compasses
seem to have malfunctioned and directed companies towards some of the
most dangerous and repressive regimes in the world. We very much hope
the OECD process will persuade Gamma and Trovicor to take a long hard
look at their current and future clients, and to think carefully about
the role their products play in the targeting and torture of activists
and the suppression of pro-democracy voices,” stated Eric King, Head of
Research at Privacy International.

Miriam Saage-Maaß, Vice Legal Director at ECCHR, said: “By maintaining
permanent business relations with the state of Bahrain and maintaining
their surveillance software, both companies have accepted the risk that
they may be accused of abetting torture and other grave human rights
violations. If true, such actions would amount to a violation of the
OECD Guidelines.”

These are not the only companies involved in providing surveillance
equipment to countries where freedom of expression is oppressed. Many
suppliers, besides the two companies in question, such as Nokia Siemens
Networks, Hacking Team and Bull / Amesys have supplied equipment to
Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Morocco and many more countries that have
violated human rights during the last years.

Human rights organisations filed formal complaints with the OECD against
surveillance companies (4.02.2013),44016.html

Briefing note on OECD Complaints against Gamma International and
Trovicor in the UK and Germany

Human rights organisations file formal complaints against surveillance
firms Gamma International and Trovicor with British and German
governments (3.02.2013)

EDRi-gram: Export Controls for Digital Weapons (19.12.2013)

EDRi-gram: German government intends to use FinFisher Spyware (30.01.2013)