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Is the federal government assisting firms sell surveillance technologies to repressive governments? Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) desires to know, but a federal subagency has been cagey about the details.
In a letter sent on Saturday, Wyden asked the International Trade Administration (ITA), a subagency of the Division of Commerce, for information about its function in helping US firms sell their surveillance technologies to other nations. In the letter, Wyden—a privacy-minded lawmaker who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance—noted that he had been asking for an answer on the matter since last summer season.
In August of 2022, the ITA confirmed to Wyden that it “provides assistance” to firms promoting surveillance technologies. But when asked, the subagency, Wyden writes, “did not supply information on these activities” or the particular enable ITA has supplied mainly because of “unspecified legal barriers to revealing extra [information].” In theory, this function falls inside ITA’s purview of advertising US exports: ITA’s internet site touts that it will enable firms compete in foreign markets on all the things from “Steel” to “Aerospace and Defense.” But that does not account for the prospective purchaser: repressive regimes seeking to crack down on civil liberties.
Wyden has very good explanation for suspicion. When the ITA published posts on its internet site showcasing arenas that are ripe for surveillance and safety technologies sales, the nations pointed out involve not only clear allies like the United Kingdom, but also other folks with a history of abusing surveillance technologies, such as Honduras, the Philippines, and India.
Amnesty International has warned of the achievable harms of India’s developing appetite for surveillance technologies, which is especially regarding in light of the improved persecution of Muslims in the nation. In its market place intelligence post on India, the ITA did not mention this repression. Alternatively, in February, the ITA told US firms that the “surveillance systems market place in India is growing” and “provides possibilities for U.S. exporters.” Yet another post on “India’s surveillance and safety market” noted “huge possibilities for U.S. firms,” and that “surveillance systems are in demand across all sectors.”
Surveillance tools have been employed in Honduras to preserve state energy and the drug trade. An ITA post on the nation in 2021 noted that the country’s wish to minimize homicide and crime is an chance for safety technologies firms. The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Dueterte, has for years used surveillance technologies, potentially abusing human rights. Nonetheless, in 2020 ITA promoted the Filipino market place as “an chance in projects that call for higher-finish, sophisticated, and sophisticated technologies such as airport safety screening options.” Posts from the ITA involve notes at the bottom encouraging US safety and surveillance firms to get in touch with agency officials to “learn about the safety and technologies opportunities” in the case of Honduras, and for “further information” with regards to the sector in the case of the Philippines and India, delivering emails for particular employees.
Wyden noted in the letter that at the March meeting the ITA pointed out a forthcoming policy that would govern how the subagency’s employees would “interact with surveillance technologies providers going forward” but has not been supplied specifics.
The ITA did not respond to a request for comment.
The Biden administration has signaled that it has an interest in curbing human rights abuses abetted by technologies, supporting the 2021 U.S.-EU Trade and Technologies Council Joint Statement—which calls for the “deployment of new technologies in techniques that … respect universal human rights,” and “upholding freedom of expression and privacy rights,” amongst other protections.
“Given the [Biden] Administration’s stated interest in limiting the human rights abuses produced achievable by these technologies, ITA have to be transparent about its previous and existing promotion of these technologies abroad,” Wyden wrote.