Syrians protesting Bashar al-Assad, via Flickr
While Americans fret over the US government spying on its citizens in the name of fighting terrorism, the very terrorist regimes the feds are trying to thwart are using surveillance technology from Silicon Valley to monitor and censor dissidents fighting for human rights.
American tech firms have long supplied—knowingly or not, it must be said—tools facilitating oppression by authoritarian regimes. A new report shows the problem is still out of control. Citizen Lab, the University of Toronto program that's been hunting bad-guy spies for over a decade, published a report this week that shows web applications from the security software company Blue Coat are popping up in "terrorist states" like Syria, Iran, and Sudan—countries the US has strict sanctions against.
The technology has a range of uses, including online surveillance, which governments have been known to use to monitor dissidents' online activity, track movement, intercept communications, and censor information, in attempts to quash protest movements. With nearly all exports to these countries strictly forbidden, how are the governments getting their hands on the products?
Partly, because sanctions are hard to enforce, which is why activist groups like Citizen Lab want tougher restrictions on products that can be used to violate human rights. "Can be" are really the key words here, since "dual use" products that have legitimate uses are being co-opted for nefarious purposes. Still, in the last year the SEC has cracked down on a bunch of tech companies for the potential use of their products in terrorist regimes.