Germany proposes ban on surveillance software exports to totalitarian regimes

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.
Written by Moritz Jaeger, Contributor

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.

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