EU restricts export of eavesdropping technology

The Parliament is targeting products used to violate human rights or restrict freedom of speech

The European Parliament on Tuesday revised EU rules on the export of so-called dual-use technologies with an aim of restricting those that can be used to violate human rights.

Until now the export of products that had both civilian and military applications was not subjected to any EU authorization system, leaving the decision on the export of potentially dangerous technologies up to the member states.

The legislative resolution by Jörg Leichtfried, Austrian member of parliament for the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) party, prohibits a general EU approval for the export of telecommunications technologies that can be used to violate human rights, democratic principles or freedom of speech. The revision was made for "interception technologies and digital data transfer devices for monitoring mobile phones and text messages and targeted surveillance of internet use," the European Parliament (EP) said in a press release.

This means that EU firms that want to export dual-use technologies need approval from the authorities. Leichtfried said in a statement that this is "a good step" toward strengthening the control over the export of these technologies. "A bigger step could have been taken if we had established a system of pre-export notifications, but unfortunately there was no majority in the house for such an amendment," he said.

The new rules limit the risk of sensitive technologies being exported to certain foreign regimes such as China, Russia, India and Turkey, as well as those subject to arms embargoes. However, under the new rules an ad hoc export ban cannot be established since companies are required to report the export themselves, Marietje Schaake, member of parliament for the liberal ALDE party, explained in an email.

The bigger technology companies are not the problem, Schaake said; it is the small subsidiaries and spin-offs that are not transparent about their deals. "Corporate interests should not prevail in this case," she said. She pointed out that "some larger technology companies" promised to watch out for such deals.

In line with Leichtfried she said that regulations should be stricter. "You could think of a public database where companies would have to report intended transactions," she suggested.

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