European Parliament endorses stricter European export control of digital arms

By endorsing amendments proposed by Dutch Member of European Parliament Marietje Schaake (D66/ALDE) the European Parliament wants EU export control regulation to include additional binding export controls for technologies that are used by authoritarian regimes to monitor, track and trace citizens. Companies should ask for export authorization if they have reasons to believe that certain exports might harm human rights. The Parliament also calls for an EU-wide application of the additional licensing requirements, EU Member States are obliged to block exports of technologies to countries facing emergency situations. “This is a big step forward in our battle against digital arms trade. It is unacceptable that regimes in Syria and Iran can use European technologies to violate human rights, let alone that European companies are actively involved in that”, Schaake Says.


Schaake proposed changes to a regulation that lays down a framework for EU export controls for dual-use items, traditionally goods that could also be used to build weapons of mass destruction or for the enrichment of uranium. Schaake: “When in the wrong hands certain technologies can become effective weapons. Though the enormous potential of the internet and technologies to connect people globally, strenghten checks on power and improve free spech should not be ignored” In all the Arabic counties and the Middle East where we have witnessed monumental changes, dictatorships used technologies to crack down against people. “Also in countries like Ethiopia, Sudan and Cuba this use of ICTs for repression is rampant. Iran is building a ‘Halal-internet’, disconnected from the world wide web. The required technology, infrastructure, knowhow or operational support should no longer come from within the EU.”


The control of European exports is an important part of the first strategy that seeks to anchor and maintream the promotion and protection of digital freedom in the EU’s foreign policy. “The new borderlessness online world also has its darker sides”, Schaake explains. “Context is essential in our understanding. The concept of ‘lawful interception’ in the EU allows the police to intercept ICTs, but it does not apply in countries where the rule of law is absent.  It is of fundamental importance that politicians and companies are aware of this new reality and will act responsibly.”


Plenary speech

Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group – Mr President, in the discussion around dual-use items I would like to focus on technologies. Technologies play an ever more important role in the lives of citizens, empowering the individual, breaking monopolies on information and power, and offering plenty of economic, social, cultural and other opportunities for development.

Technologies also impact human rights. People in Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, Syria, China, Burma and many other countries, through the use of smart phones and internet access, are able to claim fundamental human rights such as free expression, press freedom, free assembly and access to information, and they can share documented human rights abuses. But those who fear losing control are striking back, increasingly repressing people with the help of technologies as well. Prisons all over the world are populated by dissidents, human rights defenders, journalists and citizens whose laptops, mobile phones, social media and email accounts have been compromised. In their cases, mass surveillance, mass censorship, tracking and tracing are not issues of statistics, Mr Caspary, but of life and death. Too often, the repressive technologies that are used to repress people have a label: ‘made in Europe’.

It is also important that we do not export technologies that can be used to attack the EU itself. Speed is indeed important, and we must stop the digital arms trade with more transparency and accountability, a level playing field in Europe and more flexibility for updates, so that the EU can play a leading role in an ever-changing world.