Nine European countries including the UK, Italy and Sweden are weakening human rights protections by helping abusive regimes get access to surveillance equipment, Amnesty International said on Monday.
The rights watchdog said businesses in these countries have been offering sophisticated surveillance technology to repressive states that use these equipment to spy on and persecute , journalists and human rights activists.
Amnesty said Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Sweden and the UK have been trying to block curbs on the export of surveillance equipment to abusive regimes. The rights group said this is a 'retrograde move that could threaten human rights around the world'.
The position paper was prepared by Access Now, Amnesty International, Privacy International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
"Last year the European Parliament took a major step towards reining in this dangerous trade by pushing for stronger regulations. In attempting to undermine this progress, these nine states are siding with profits over people and lending their support to human rights abusers who rely on the EU's lax regulations to silence their critics," Access Now policy analyst Lucie Krahulcova said.
RSF said the move undermines press freedom and protection of journalists' sources. "Today, journalists are being spied on or arrested with the help of European surveillance technologies, which discourages the exchange of information," Elodie Vialle, Head of Journalism & Technology at RSF, said.
"These nine states are siding with profits over people and lending their support to human rights abusers who rely on the EU's lax regulations to silence their critics," the position paper added.
Governments have been using commercially available surveillance technology to spy on activists, journalists and dissidents. The paper cited the example of UAE human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, who was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison. Mansoor had been targeted by EU-manufactured equipment, the paper said. Another example is the European-made FinSpy malware that was used to target civil society in Turkey, Indonesia, Ukraine, and Venezuela.
Sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment sourced from the UK has helped Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in his brutal anti-drug campaign that saw the deaths of suspected offenders and rights activists in scores.