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May 30, 2013 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

What's Happening at ORGCon2013: Digital Arms Trade Debate

The digital arms trade is an increasingly pressing threat. Here we introduce and set the context for the discussion on this important issue taking place at ORGCon2013.


 ORGCon2013 is a great place to find about new threats to our online rights – and ways to combat them. One of these issues is the Digital Arms Trade, a new area for ORG, but one that is increasingly gaining attention and action. We're delighted that Eric King of Privacy International, Hauke Gierow, Reporters without Borders and Simone Halink, Bits of Freedom will be sharing their expertise at the conference.

The Internet is a tool for communication that has been shown over and over again to be a source of empowerment. It connects the LGBT teenager who is being bullied to find support and a network of friends online, it connects the activists suffering under oppressive regimes to one another, and allows groups on the ground to communicate human rights abuses to the world.

But the trade in surveillance technology undermines this potential and treats this technology as a tool for governments to surveil citizens and control their communications. 

In the UK we have seen policy makers spend years trying to persuade Parliament and the electorate to stand behind legislation for mass surveillance of the population. They seem unable to relinquish the idea that these powers are necessary for beating terrorists or paedophiles. Just this week we have seen a number of senior political figures claim that Snoopers' Charter powers could have prevented the Woolwich attack – despite MI5 saying that isn't the case.

In our campaigns against the Snoopers' Charter we have warned of the foreign policy problems that it would create and the terrible precedent it would set internationally. Our Professor Elemental video makes that point more eloquently than mere blogging can:

The digital arms trade is exactly what the Professor is talking about: surveillance and censorship equipment being exported across the world - and it is happening already. As EDRi (European Digital Rights) write on their site:

“Surveillance equipment is used, inter alia, to spy on journalists, bloggers, citizen journalists, democracy activists and their sources, friends and even loose contacts. Many suppliers of this surveillance infrastructure are located in the European Union, names like Nokia Siemens Networks, Gamma, Trovicor, Hacking Team and Bull / Amesys come to mind. Those firms supplied equipment to Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Morocco and many more countries that have systematically violated human rights over the course of the last years. In all of these countries at the time of the instalment of surveillance infrastructure there was no press freedom and people were being tortured or imprisoned for criticizing the government."

You can find out more about this worrying issue at ORGCon by coming to the Digital Arms Trade panel. We have three excellent speakers who all have different experiences dealing with this threat:

Hauke Gierow from Reporters without Borders who campaign on this issue as one of the most pressing threats for modern journalism. It is key for journalists to be able to protect their sources and store their information securely in order to preserve a free press.

Simone Halink from Bits of Freedom. Bits of Freedom are a Dutch digital rights campaigning group and they have recently been fighting back against a new proposed surveillance law. The Dutch government announced plans for legislation that would give law enforcement new powers to investigate crime online. It would include the power to not only access emails, but also install spyware, destroy files and access servers located in other countries. Bits of Freedom will be sharing their insights and talking about how this law is an international threat.

Eric King of Privacy International will be speaking about their "Big Brother Inc" project. In 1995 PI produced a report called Big Brother Incorporated about the international trade in surveillance technology, the first investigation ever conducted on this issue. In it they point out that more than 80 British companies are involved, making the UK the world leader in this field. This report started their on-going project, Big Brother Inc, which continues to investigate, raise awareness of and campaign against the digital arms trade.

Come along and find out more about this and more at ORGCon2013, Sat 8th June. You can book your tickets here: https://orgcon.openrightsgroup.org/2013/tickets

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