UK urged to ban sale of surveillance tech to Iran

Lord Alton has asked the UK government why there is no embargo on the sale of British-made surveillance technologies to Iran
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

A peer has urged the UK government to fight human rights abuses by restricting the sale of surveillance technology to Iran and other repressive regimes in the Middle East and North Africa.

Independent cross-bench peer Lord David Alton tabled a series of written questions to parliament on Monday regarding the sale of interception and surveillance technologies to Iran.

"Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty's Government why there is no export embargo on United Kingdom manufactured software and equipment which has been used to track down protestors and democracy activists in Iran," was one of the questions revealed in a blog post by Lord Alton.

Creativity Software, a Kingston-upon-Thames based interception technology vendor, was named as having sold interception technology to MTN Irancell, a large Iranian internet service provider.

Lord Alton asked the government whether it had made an assessment of how British-made technologies were being used in Iran, and whether it had looked into the alleged use of technologies in "the interrogation and torture of Iranian democracy activists".

The sale of interception technologies to repressive regimes in the Middle East and North Africa by UK companies is not restricted under UK law, a Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) spokeswoman told ZDNet UK on Tuesday.

"The type of software in question is not covered by an export control, and therefore it does not appear that the exporter has broken the law," BIS said in a statement. "The government actively discourages all trade with Iran."

Aaron Rhodes, a policy adviser for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that European interception technology had been used to convict campaigners in Iran.

"There have been a number of dissidents and human rights activists who have been convicted on the basis of intercepted SMS evidence in Iran," said Rhodes. "The records of their trials show this."

Rhodes said that some surveillance technologies were exported to Iran by European companies.

"This is not illegal technology, but it is being abused by Iranian government employees," said Rhodes, who added that a UK surveillance technology trade embargo to Iran "would be a step toward making companies more aware of their responsibilities".

Creativity Software, which sells location and intercept technologies, had not responded to requests for comment at the time of writing.

Foreign secretary William Hague has received donations from MMC Ventures, a venture capital company with investments in Creativity Software, according to Bloomberg.

A number of technology companies have been linked to the sale of telecommunications equipment to Iran. On Friday Chinese company Huawei said that it had sold equipment to Iran, but said that it did not provide monitoring, filtering, or censorship technologies to the regime.

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