Countries Agree to Limit Export of Internet Snooping Technologies


watchingMass surveillance technologies have now been put in the same class as other arms used by repressive states. This has been prompted by diplomatic rows which ensued between the US and other regional powers over the scope of the NSA’s surveillance. Arm-exporting nations have therefore agreed to limit the proliferation of internet surveillance technologies similar to other arms used to suppress citizen liberties in autocratic regimes.

To slow the transfer of surveillance technologies, the Wassenaar Agreement has been widened to include cyber systems used for snooping by intelligence agencies. 41 arms-producing and -exporting countries are signed up to the agreement and will be required to report the transfer of these technologies to the rest of the group. Exporting companies are also required to obtain licences for the supply of cyber surveillance systems.

Analysts are however raising concerns on the expansion of the Wassenaar Agreement citing the use of security products in research may be curtailed by this agreement.

“We have to think of ways for [governments] to enforce the controls,” he says. “It’s always going to be the case that some of these technologies are intangible and very easy to export, which presents unique enforcement challenges that conventional arms don’t.” – Edin Omanovic, a surveillance technology specialist at Privacy International

“Although unintended, these controls could also catch some legitimate security products.” – Open Technology Institute, United States

To which Omanovic says, the techologies in focus are those used for intelligence gathering not cyber defence. The agreements that they have ended up with have been incredibly specific.”

In November last year, UK organisation – Privacy International published a list of 338 vendors in the cyber surveillance business drawn from 35 countries. And there is a great demand for these systems, according to Reporters Without Borders: Bahrain, Syria and Vietnam have joined the list of states clamping down on dissent using sophisticated technology.

Although state organs conduct surveillance on citizens, they can as well be on the receiving end of cyber intrusions.