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Saturday, December 3, 2011

American Law Will Stop Tech Sales To Tyrannical Regimes

The government of the United States considers a legislation that would stop companies from exporting surveillance equipment to the countries with repressive regimes. The suggested legislation to enact a Global Online Freedom Act is expected to curb the freedom with which tech companies can operate in countries where these products are used for censorship of the web or citizen surveillance. 

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A few days ago Senator Chris Smith has tabled the legislation. It seems that he was aware of the irony of denouncing the regimes in countries like Iran or Libya while allowing American-made goods to help maintain state dominance. In fact, this isn’t a problem for the United States only.

You may remember how a French outfit Amesys was caught dealing with a spy network. In addition, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has also been accused of being connected with a company that had been less than careful about how its goods had been used. Actually, there are a lot of large corporations that have reportedly supplied repressive regimes with surveillance tools. For example, Huawei is suspected for its ability to track people to prospective Iranian buyers, and Cisco is believed to be cooperating with China in this regard as well.

This is not the first attempt to clear up the industry, but according to media reports, a previous bill put forward by Senator Smith was put aside in favor of less restrictive trade rules. Such international giants as Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft have tried to establish a self regulatory industry group in respond to criticism of their involvement in China. Industry experts claim this was done to fend off actual regulations where the government could clamp down harder with the outfits hold accountable.

Anyway, not many have supported this idea, and it seems that Cisco has given short shrift to it. The company already has a questionable record, facing allegations about being involved in a massive plan by the country to supply the Chinese city of Chongqing with half a million of surveillance cameras. The company managed to circumvent current American legislation by saying that the cameras are only used for “anti-crime” purposes rather than for repressive ones.

This may remind one the famous Bill Hicks sketch with “farming equipment” being sold to Iraq before being turned into flame-throwing rakes or armoured tractors. Of course, Cisco has been widely criticized for this deal, which it managed to make thanks to a loophole in existing legislation. However, under new rules it wouldn’t be easy to agree on such a deal.

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