ICT firms that operate in repressive regimes have to find a balance that respects the human rights of users and fulfills their legal obligation to respond to authorities’ lawful demands
Government interference is one of the most imminent threats to consumer data and human rights around the world. Access to large pools of consumer data facilitates repressive regimes to squelch free speech and monitor and control citizens, particularly in places where the rule of law is weak.
As Peter Micek, head of global policy and legal counsel at Access Now, puts it: “Most directly, ICT companies procure, sell, ship, install, and maintain invasive surveillance and filtering technology in countries that routinely violate human rights.”
He gives the example of Hacking Team, a Milan-based information technology company that has been criticised for selling intrusion and surveillance capabilities to governments, law enforcement agencies and corporations in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, and Bahrain, though the company says it has the ability to disable its software if it is used unethically.
“Companies have been caught developing, marketing, and providing surveillance technology catered to government campaigns against minority, marginalised, or vulnerable actors such as civil rights, religious and oppressed groups,” adds Micek. These include Black Lives Matter activists in the US, Falun Gong in China, and Anglophones in French-speaking Cameroon.
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