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back to article UK.gov warned: Halt exports of spyware to brutal regimes

The grubby practice of allowing UK-stamped surveillance tech to be shipped to brutal regimes could land the British government in court to answer allegations of aiding human rights breaches. London-based NGO Privacy International has repeatedly asked the UK to exercise existing powers under the Exports Control Act 2002 to help …

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Bronze badge
Black Helicopters

Brutal regimes

Are the only ones interested in spying on their subjects.

... damn what is that noise above me....

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Anonymous Coward

In times such as these, we can ill afford the luxury of morality.

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Anonymous Coward

We can always afford morality.

I'd rather die as a good man than live as an evil one.

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Unhappy

quote: "In times such as these, we can ill afford the luxury of morality."

Spoken like a true elected representative :)

Here are some straw men for your perusal:

"Times are hard and I can no longer afford prostitutes, so I'll just go rape some women since that is free"

"Times are hard and I can no longer afford cigs and alcohol, so I'll just go rob the nearest off-license since that is free"

"If the UK legalised child porn we could make billions in child porn tourism, and we need the money"

"If we started selling nuclear weapons to any comers, we could make trillions and pay off the national debt"

The first 2 straw men are from a personal perspective (an individual ignoring morality for personal gain), and the second 2 straw men are from a governmental perspective (a government ignoring morality for fiscal gain).

I'm calling them straw men as your position is vague enough that I cannot construct a specific refutation, therefore I have to resort to the tired old process of making analogous positions up on the spot. I do feel that they are exceptionaly close to the original articles premise though:

"If we sell surveillance systems to despotic regimes who have secret police, we can make millions, and we certainly want the money!"

In my personal opinion, anyone who will voluntarily discard morality for personal gain is my definition of "evil". See my paedophile straw man above; no "right-minded" citizen could condone making profits from child porn, however there are significant global profits to be made from child porn. In times such as these, can we "ill afford the luxury of morality"? Or is morality even (especially?) in adversity the sign of a "better" society?

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Silver badge

or we could just sell to Jordan who then resell onwards. Isnt that how it worked with weapons?

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Meh

@NumptyScrub

Your argument does raise some interesting meta-physical questions, such as "what is morality", "who defines morality" and "is my morality better than your morality".

I think the vast majority of people in Blighty would see themselves as moral, but the yard stick by which we measure this is about as reliable as an 1980's Skoda 120.

While I would not disagree with your "straw men" this has very little to do with the PI story, which I have expanded on a little myself, below.

The problem I do have with your example is that they are, broadly, not good example for the PI story. Not having enough money for booze and fags, so turning to crime, is not a parallel for selling /any type/ of hardware/software.

Look at Syria: for years they were seen as a pillar of stability in the region, despite the running bad press commentary from the US about issues with Israel. So, as a legitimate Gov' in Damascus, were they to buy some "tech" in, say, 2008, should we then be taking it out now because it is being used for "oppression"? Should we be trying to guess the future and only sell to countries we know will "never" become despotic regimes ?

Depending on your point of view and your politics, you may say the evens after 1997 wold have put the UK in that category, lead by a catholic fanatic Blair, who went trumping around the middle east like a drunk in Doc Martens.....

.

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Re: @Piloti

Morality is a base human behaviour and does not require much definition. Time and again we see the same basic more appearing, transcending cultures and continuing to exist despite religion.

"Don't be a dick and help each other" just about covers it.

On a global scale, where we fall down is in supporting the "least bad" option when that option remains repugnant (e.g. supporting Saddam back in the day) or meddling for purely selfish reasons (e.g. executing/overthrowing democratically elected leaders simply because they disagree with us).

As individuals, humans are generally great and get along quite happily. As nations we are violent bullies hell-bent on nicking everyone else's sweeties. And IMHO this is because it's the socio-paths who float to the top, becoming business and political leaders.

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@The BigYin

"" Morality is a base human behaviour and does not require much definition ""

I would disagree with this line utterly. For the last seven or so years I have been working in Africa: Libya, Madagascar, Zambia, Swaziland, Gabon, Congo with brief stints in Algeria and Egypt. The one thing I would say is that each country, each culture has it's own very different views on morality. Whether that is about the ways people treat each other, the ways people treat the environment, how they treat animals etc. One cultures bribery is anothers "paying respects". If you have tried to pass through a border control around the Zambian/Zimbabwe border you will know what I mean. Or leave Gabon. Or enter Congo. or move one Congo to the other [DRC] for example.

"" As individuals, humans are generally great and get along quite happily."" There are caveats to this and, again, from my experience in the last few years, it has boiled down to "" As individuals, humans are generally great and get along quite happily, as long as they are not too different, or don't make too many demands "".

As I say, this is all from personal experience and I accept I have not met everybody, not been to every country, but what I have seen suggests the concept of "morality" is a very sticky one indeed.

Salut.

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Anonymous Coward

Luxury of morality

Presumably then you're for Barclays fiddling LIBOR and millionaires and multinationals shipping income abroad?

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Re: @NumptyScrub

@politi - "stability" is diplomatic language for brutal dictatorship that is going to stay in power.

"Vital ally in the war on terror" is code for brutal military dictatorship that is more scared of Al Queda than he is of us.

Syria and Libya didn't suddenly surprisingly turn bad in 2012

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Anonymous Coward

I believe she prefers to be called "Katie Price" nowadays, and I had no idea she was an arms dealer....... can't say i'm suprised though!

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Silver badge

Methinks that banning education would make more sense.

Oh, wait, they are already trying to do that ...

Seriously, am I the only one who finds "spyware" laughable, even on an international stage? Surely, the British .gov.uk should be happy with the tax income collected from such companies, riding on the backs of the idiot "furriners" daft enough to purchase the useless software? We've all gone mad. Or there is something in the water, dropping IQ by a couple-three dozen points?

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Anonymous Coward

Yeah - stop exporting British tech to brutish techs, because we don't need a boost in our export economy - oh hang on......

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Anonymous Coward

Yeah - stop exporting British tech to brutish techs, because the Americans want the business .....

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Anonymous Coward

Puke inducing hypocrisy

If thAts your argument then stop going on about how "evil" Assad is, how it's so bad that Bhurma kills its own people. The British habit of going on about how awesome we are while at the same time killing innocent news paper sellers in the street and selling weapons so that regimes like Assads and the Bahrhanis can kill their own people makes me sick.

If we are so broke, maybe we shouldn't have sold the Olympic athletes village to the Quataris for a 60% discount!!!

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Silver badge

Does the Spyware work?

If so, that's a step up from the homoeopathic bomb detectors from a few years ago:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/head-of-bomb-detector-company-arrested-in-fraud-investigation-1876388.html

It seems that the government doesn't care what shite it puts it's name to in the effort build up exports. Who cares about 'reputation' anyway?

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Pfft

There is too much money in selling weapons of all kinds to oppressive regimes. And in politics, money trumps ethics every time. Which is part and parcel why the likes of Vodafone, Tesco, Goldman Sachs etc are continually permitted to get way with their, IMHO, overly aggressive tax reduction measures.

This is also why we allow the Turkish are allowed to keep slaughtering the Kurds.

Why we support the House of Saud and the Bahraini regime (up to and including teaching their forces how to suppress protesters).

Sold Hawk fighters to the regime in Indonesia.

Sell electro-shock weapons.

Are happy to allow the USA to commit acts of torture without censure.

Etc.

If we don't uphold morals and ethics, we are no better than the sub-human bastards spreading misery among their populace.

When it comes to spyware, however, that is an arms race the nations will probably lose. Why? Well you have a few spooks up against every angry, over-sexed and pissed off teenager on the planet. Teens with brains and an awful lot of spare time on their hands. Roll on Tor, Haystack and the dark-nets.

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Black Helicopters

""Privacy International has given the government 21 days to respond," the NGO said.

"If the government has failed to act by the time this deadline expires, Privacy International will file for judicial review and if appropriate seek an urgent injunction preventing British companies from maintaining and updating systems already previously sold to repressive regimes, and stopping any new exports in their tracks."

"

Yeah, good luck with that!!!!

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Silver badge

So we're not allowed to sell to the USA anymore?

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Thumb Down

Curious Logic

This is an interesting article loaded with emotive language [quotations] and some ambiguity.

The problem I have with the PI statement / demand / request is fairly simple to ask, much harder to answer. First of all, exactly /what is "UK-stamped surveillance tech", secondly, is the equipment the issue or two whom we see it, thirdly, do we ask for something back if a "regime" becomes despotic and finally, given that the UK Gov', and pretty much every other western Gov' uses "surveillance tech" will we stop selling this to ourselves and to other countries in the "civilised world", or is PI simply asserting an inverse racism: we are British therefore ok, but you are from a "foreign country so much be 'not' ok.".

Statements like PI seem, on the surface, very well intentioned, but do come across like a spoilt 12 year old brat, constantly shouting "it's not fair" when they see something they don't like.

It may not be a very palatable message, but we are NOT the moral arbitrators for the rest of the world and frankly, it is up to foreign Gov's how they maintain their own security; just as we argue when discussing our own.

Once you start determining what other people and other Gov's may or may not do with kit, you are, as Humphrey once stated, on a very slippery slope. Should Japan stop selling HiLux's just because these are used all over Africa as military vehicles? Do the worlds major Telco's stop selling their own Lawful Intercept solutions, and indeed any telecomm's equipment, do router vendors stop producing deep packet inspection equipment [hardware and software] and BP, Shell et stop selling oil, because this fuels the military ?

No, of course not, so why is this any different? It is just another tool in the box that can be used for "good and bad*".

* I'll let you decide who should decide what is good and bad.

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FAIL

Privacy International

Lead by Gus Hosein, and (until recently) Simon Davies?

The same two people who wrote a 'privacy impact' report to support Phorm's involuntary mass surveillance?

The same Phorm surveillance technology that is presently being trialled on victims in Turkey, Romania, and Brazil without a single whisper from Privacy >International< ?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Privacy International

Uh...I think you'll find they didn't endorse nor support form as either P.I. nor 80/20 Thinking.

They did write a report which did say Phorm had got a few things right, but was still largely wrong (not opt-in etc).

I can't comment on their silence over Brazil et al as it is not an issue I am familiar with.

But here's another one for you - intercept operations and Skype. Isn't it odd that super-nodes are no longer in use and it now runs over a USA-controlled back-bone?

Curious indeed.

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'The charity's head of research, Eric King, said.........' nothing very interesting or constructive but his actions did promise more waste of taxpayers' money and much more publicity for PI.

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