US bill aims to stop tech sales to repressive regimes

The US government will consider a bill which would stop firms from exporting surveillance equipment to governments operating repressive regimes.

The bill to enact a Global Online Freedom Act aims to curb the freedom with which tech companies can flog their wares to countries where the equipment is used for online censorship or citizen surveillance. 

Senator Chris Smith has tabled the bill, and seems to be aware of the irony of denouncing the regimes in places like Iran or Libya while allowing US-made products to help maintain state dominance.  Not that this is a problem only for America – far from it.

French outfit Amesys was caught getting up to no good dealing with Colonel Gadaffi’s spy network.  Our very own Foreign Secretary, shiny-domed William Hague, has also been accused of having ties with a company which was less than careful about how its products were being used.

In fact, there are many large companies which have reportedly supplied tyrannical regimes with surveillance equipment.  Huawei was tipped to have bragged about its ability to monitor citizens to prospective Iranian buyers, while Cisco is thought to have gotten its hands dirty in China too.

There have been attempts to clear up the industry in the past, though as the Wall Street Journal reports, an earlier bill put forward by Senator Smith was swept under the carpet in favour of less restrictive trade rules.

Some companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have attemped to set up a self regulatory industry group – following criticism of their involvement in China. Critics argue this is to fend off real regulations that could see the government clamping down harder when companies are held accountable.

Not many have signed up to this anyway, and Cisco has apparently given short shrift to the idea.

Cisco already has a questionable record, with allegations flying about that it is involved in a massive plan by China to supply the city of Chongqing with 500,000 surveillance cameras.

Cisco was able to get around current US legislation by claiming that the cameras are for ‘anti-crime’ purposes and not overtly for repressive purposes.

This, of course, brings to mind the famous Bill Hicks sketch where “farming equipment” is sold to Iraq before being duly turned into armoured tractors and flame-throwing rakes.

Cisco was subsequently widely criticised for this move, which was okayed due to a loophole in existing laws. Under new rules however it would be very difficult to agree on such a deal.  

TechEye has attempted to contact Cisco but hasn’t received a response at time of publication.