Technology can help people to express themselves, but it can also be used to violate their human rights. On Tuesday 8 September MEPs vote on a report on the impact of intrusion and surveillance systems on human rights in countries outside the EU. Report author Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the ALDE group, told us that the EU should lead by example and that European technologies should not contribute to human right violations.
Could you give some examples of when EU technology was used to violate human rights in countries outside the EU?
Technology and access to the internet have created opportunities to document and share human rights abuses, but also systems that are built, marketed and designed for mass surveillance or hacking into people devices without their consent. Systems that can pull information out of people´s computers, mobile phones, laptops or that can switch on the camera or the microphone and start recording without this person knowing. This is a significant market, worth billions of euros, where many European companies are active.
You can imagine what these systems mean for journalists in countries where freedom and safety of the press is not a given, for opposition figures, for human right defenders, for activists. I think it is crucial that the EU leads by example and that we make sure technologies made in the EU are not contributing to human rights violations.
What can the EU and the Parliament do to ensure that?
First of all, we need more knowledge about what these technologies can actually do. Then when it comes to legislation, you don’t want to overregulate, but you have to start taking measures. This can be seen in proposed export rules by restricting exports or even the availability of these systems. In the report we call for more transparency, more accountability and more licensing of these tools, so that we don’t sell these systems to oppressive regimes. We should also make sure we are not selling tools that enable corporate espionage and that terrorist or other non-state actors do not purchase EU-made technology to use against our interests and values.
One other recommendation that I hope will be adopted, but is still controversial, is the call for strengthening the use of encryption, including when communicating with human rights defenders and journalists in third countries.
In your report you call for more coherence between the EU’s external actions and its internal policies related to ICTs. Are the EU's internal policies enough to ensure that these technologies are not used against EU citizens?
That’s a very lively discussion. In recent months we have seen that countries that initially were very critical about what the NSA and the United States did, such as France, have now adopted laws that may surpass the authority of the intelligence gathering, without the appropriate oversight and that can be very intrusive. We need more sophisticated and targeted measures such as better cooperation between intelligence services in Europe, even an European service, as long as there is sufficient democratic and judicial oversight.
There are systems that when they are used in Europe with the appropriate oversight and safeguards could have legitimate purposes, but that would never have legitimate purposes in countries such as Syria, Sudan or Russia.
This interview was published originally on 3 September 2015.