The UK is a worldwide exporter of surveillance technology. From devices that hoover up phone calls and text messages, to hardware for monitoring internet traffic, Her Majesty’s Government has granted myriad licenses to ship spying gear over the past few years.
Some of the recipient countries will have legitimate uses for such products, but many—Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia—also have abhorrent human rights records, especially when it comes to abusing powerful surveillance tech.
“The transfer of these technologies cannot be divorced from human rights concerns,” Matthew Rice, advocacy officer at UK activist group Privacy International, told Motherboard in an email. “The use of spying technology plays a very real role in human rights abuses such as torture and cruel or inhuman treatment. The misuse of these invasive surveillance technologies is a human rights violation in and of itself, interfering with the fundamental right to privacy.”
To better illustrate this proliferation, Motherboard has created an interactive map using data published by the Department of International Trade, as well as extra details obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, such as the specific product exported, or the company that sold it. The map shows which countries the government has granted export licenses to since 2015, and includes telecommunications interception equipment, intrusion or hacking software, and internet monitoring tools. Motherboard will update the map as more data becomes available. (Currently, the map dates back to April 2016).
The map includes both temporary and permanent licenses. The former are for trade shows or for demoing a product to a customer, and last up to 12 months.
“There need to be stronger human rights considerations in place for any proposed transfer of surveillance technology, including an assessment of the suitability of the law in the receiving country and the current human rights framework in place. At the moment the assessment criteria is failing to prevent transfers that should clearly not take place,” Rice added.
You can find the map here, and various related datasets below.