Exporting repression: How Britain is supplying surveillance technology to human-rights abusing countries

September 2019

By Mark Curtis and Matt Kennard

The British government is continuing to approve the export of high-tech surveillance equipment and software of the type that is being used by states abusing human rights to monitor and repress dissent, new government figures show.

In the past 12 months, “telecommunications interception equipment”, or software and technology for such equipment, has been exported to 13 countries, including authoritarian regimes such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar.

Such technology enables security forces to monitor the private activities of groups or individuals, potentially enabling them to crack down on political opponents. Especially controversial are so-called IMSI-catchers, a sophisticated surveillance technology which can monitor phone conversations, text messages and private information stored on mobiles. IMSI-catchers are considered so sensitive that the British police have refused to confirm or deny whether it uses them.

Recently released British government figures make clear that many of the approved exports are destined to “law enforcement” agencies of foreign governments.

In September 2018, Global Justice Now threatened legal action against the government, believing that these sales may be contrary to export laws. Despite repeated legal letters to the Secretary of State for International Trade, the British government has failed to give evidence that such sales were compliant with legal requirements. The new data lends further weight to Global Justice Now’s call on the British government to cease such exports in light of evidence they help fuel repression overseas and are illegal because they violate the government’s own export control guidelines.

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