Germany proposes ban on surveillance software exports to totalitarian regimes

Germany proposes ban on surveillance software exports to totalitarian regimes

Summary: Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has told a conference that the country hopes to ban the export of tools that could allow repressive regimes to monitor their own citizens.

TOPICS: Security, Software, EU

Germany is looking to ban the export of surveillance software to totalitarian states like Syria or Iran.

Guido Westerwelle, Germany's foreign minister, mentioned the move during a talk at the Internet and Human Rights conference, hosted by the German Federal Foreign Office in Berlin last week.

During his speech Westerwelle highlighted the importance of the internet for organising political protest, according to the German newspaper Die Zeit. However, the same sites that facilitate the co-ordination of political activism can also be infiltrated and used to track down the individuals involved, he said.

According to Westerwelle, the German government is now pushing for an EU-wide resolution that would limit the export of surveillance software.

"These regimes should not get the technical instruments to spy on their own citizens," Westerwelle told the conference, Die Zeit reported.

However the minister did not specify which particular technologies would be included within the remit of the ban, or when it could come into force. The proposal would also not limit exports to 'friendly' countries or for use by European nations.

This is the first time that a member of the German government has spoken out openly against the export of surveillance software on a large scale. Currently, restrictions to the export of such software only apply if it has been explicitly developed for military use — a foreign government can buy surveillance software that can, for example, intercept Skype-based communications if it claims that the software will be used against criminals.

The proposal follows an earlier resolution by the European Parliament calling for the European Commission to establish greater accountability for EU companies that export surveillance tools. The Commission late last year called for companies to stop selling surveillance and law enforcement technology to repressive regimes.

Topics: Security, Software, EU

Moritz Jaeger

About Moritz Jaeger

Moritz is a Munich-based IT-journalist with more than eight years of experience as an author under his belt.

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  • So while Syria is bombing it's citizens...

    they will certainly stop their operatives from buying the software in Germany and putting it in the diplomatic pouch for delivery. That would be illegal!
    Tony Burzio
  • When events meet good intentions

    He said this last week? Hopefully that was before Sudanese protesters used the Internet to organize the attack on the German embassy there. They'll be happy to hear that the German foreign minister wants to protect their anonymity.
    Robert Hahn
  • Futile

    Totalitarian regimes will just buy the software from America instead.
  • Germany is right!

    Surveillance software should ONLY allow "democratic" regimes to monitor their own citizens.

    Let's keep our priorities in order, people.
  • The question is...

    ...would such a restriction fall afoul of WTO rules? ...or even if it weren't would it be interepreted as so being?
    John L. Ries
  • ok, Are you hearing the reality within his statement?

    If you are reading this and you tend to "agree", Do you really know why you are agreeing? Typically because your arrogance is so overbearing to your senses, you are unable to comprehend what you really can read. What you should read from this is that it is understood by a particular people (and, not who you assume it is), that there is a very powerful capability in having the ability to use serveillance across any large group or population of people. And, in fact, information is more powerful if you can control who has access to it. Citizens of any totalitarian government will not understand or come close to comprehending the capabilities of having the information(IE: more like your own, rather than a country that it is "apparent" in your own eyes to have fallen victim to any form of serveilance or controlling powers like Syria etc) Furthermore, it is only likely that, in these smaller and politically askew regions, will there ever be any real avoidance of a totalitarian regime in the long term (Although, not impervious to swaying between political opposites via, power overthrows and gov. failures). It is the more totalitarian governmental strategies applied in your own (US/German, U.K.) that have the capability to prove a more thorough threat while you are repeatedly reminded that only elsewhere, there exists a "bad" and plain "rotten" problem against humanity and all good things. What He is really saying here is they don't want to share the knowledge with anyone having philosophy not matching their own totalitarian regime's conduct.