Surveillance Technology Sold To Iran : Article for Politics Home and Questions In The House – Updated December 2nd

Nov 30, 2011 | Uncategorized

December 2nd, 2011
Surveillance Technology sold to Iran and Syria: BBC Newsnight Report (two thirds of the way in).

Politics Home article on Surveillance Technology addition, it is featured on the main page of PoliticsHome’s Central Lobby website which can be accessed by visiting http://www.epolitix.comExport Controls
Question: Monday November 28th 2011
2.50 pm
Asked By Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they are giving to provisions concerning the export and re-export of arms and to the export of software or technologies that can be used against civilian populations.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, the Government have set out their position on the issue of re-export controls on a number of occasions. The Government do not believe that statutory extra-territorial controls on the re-export of UK-origin goods would add to the effectiveness of UK export licensing. On the second part of the Question, the Government take their export control responsibilities very seriously and do not license the export of controlled equipment where there is a clear risk that it could be used for internal repression or human rights abuses. We take any reports of exports being misused overseas very seriously, and the extent to which export controls should apply to surveillance equipment is something that the Government are considering actively, particularly in relation to Syria and Iran.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Has she had the chance to read the testimony of the Iranian journalist Saeid Pourheyder, who was tortured and subjected to a mock execution? He had been identified by British surveillance technology allegedly sold to Iran by a company called Creativity Software. Will the Minister say what discussions her department had with officials from that company in 2009, and what was discussed during those meetings? Why was the 2010 European Union prohibition on all,
“equipment which might be applied to internal repression”,in Iran not implemented in this case?
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, 2009 was in the previous Government’s time, but I will look back to see if there is anything that I have missed. However, I can tell the noble Lord that at the moment, alongside our EU counterparts, we are supporting the progress of EU restrictions on surveillance software to Syria. All member states have agreed in principle to the prohibition on selling, supplying, transferring or exporting equipment to monitor the internet and telephone communications
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on mobile or fixed networks. However, surveillance technology is not controlled under our current export-licensing system as it has legitimate applications. For example, it allows companies operating in dangerous locations to monitor the location of staff, and parents to locate their children’s telephone if they are missing. So there are many legitimate uses for this technology. However, we are most certainly looking at it and will report back.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Foreign Secretary’s statement of 13 October, when he announced a proposal to introduce a mechanism to allow immediate licensing suspension of software and other export items to countries that are experiencing a sharp deterioration? In light of her answer about Creativity Software, have the Government had any discussions with the company since the Foreign Secretary’s statement on 13 October, with a view to suspending its ability to export these items?
Baroness Wilcox: I am afraid that, at the moment, all I know is that the company referred to is exporting quite legitimately, as far as we know. We do not know of any re-exporting involving that company, but certainly we are considering most actively the extent to which export controls should apply to surveillance equipment, particularly in relation to Syria and Iran.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I think that most of us would agree with trying to stop arms exports that can be used for internal repression in countries that do not benefit from democracy. However, can the Minister explain which body, in this new technological world, actually decides which items can be used for internal repression and which cannot? This is surely a difficult area. How do the Government cope with that, and how do they decide on which side of the border a particular product lies?
Baroness Wilcox: My noble friend is quite right: this is very complicated. We live in a technological age that moves at enormously fast speed. We also do not wish to cause suffering to the innocent people of another country by restricting goods unless we absolutely have to and feel that it is right to do so. That is what we are doing at the moment. I wondered whether anybody would ask me where they could find out what is restricted and what is not. It is always very helpful to have this information. Trade data are available online at if anybody would like to look that up. Information on export restrictions is available on the BIS website. It is the ministry of business that deals with this, which is why I am answering the Question.
Lord Dubs: What the Minister has said is welcome as far as it goes, and I fully understand the difficulties with surveillance technology, but I should like to ask her this. First, when does she think the Government will arrive at a firm decision on being more restrictive on the export of surveillance technology? Secondly, what about exporting to other countries which might then re-export to oppressive regimes? What can the Government do about that?
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Baroness Wilcox: The Government do not want goods of UK origin to be re-exported for undesirable uses-of course not. However, the introduction of a statutory re-export control does not make our current export-licensing system more robust. We have talked this through with the European Union. The difficulty is that our law cannot be applied to another country to which something has been passed on. However, we make the questioning of anybody who is looking for an export licence from us very robust, particularly if it is for export to difficult countries, to make absolutely sure that we are clear about why they are doing it and where the goods are going. If, when they come back the next time, we discover that something has happened-that there has been a re-export-we will have an opportunity. However, it is most frustrating that we cannot do more. If anybody can come up with any other suggestion for us or the other members of the European Union, we will be only too happy to listen.
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, the tension that occurs between promoting commercial interests and seeking the improvement of human rights overseas is highlighted by the UK’s role as a major arms-exporting country. We also need to consider the role of government agencies in the support and promotion of arms sales. In its role as a supporter of UK growth, does BIS regularly analyse the industrial and economic benefits of MoD procurement decisions so that a proper cost-benefit analysis can take place? If not, why not? Can we expect to see such analyses being published?
Baroness Wilcox: I think that the answer is yes, it does-I am sure that it does. I will check to make absolutely sure, as I am sure that the noble Lord will ask me about this again otherwise. I will return to this with the information that he has asked for, if I may.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: May I ask my noble friend what approach the Government adopt towards the export or re-export of arms or software to the Israeli army for potential use in Palestine?
Baroness Wilcox: The same rules apply as to any other country.
———————————————————————————————————Written Questions:
Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Howell of Guildford on 15 November (Official Report, col. 579), whether United Kingdom companies are permitted to sell surveillance technology to Iran; and, if so, what criteria they use to judge whether sales of surveillance technology are permissible.
• Hansard source (Citation: HL Deb, 28 November 2011, c32W)
Baroness Wilcox (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Business, Innovation and Skills; Conservative)
UK companies do not, under the UK export control regime as it stands, need permission to export this kind of software and equipment unless it contains controlled encryption.
The Government’s policy is actively to discourage all trade with Iran. We can prevent trade in those cases only where the law allows us to do so. The Government will consider carefully the case for new legislation in this area.
Questions for Written Answer
Tabled on 28 November and due for answer by 12 December.
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in replying to the oral question from Lord Alton of Liverpool on 28 November, to the effect that under the United Kingdom export control regime United Kingdom companies do not need permission to export surveillance software, Baroness Wilcox took account of the provisions of the Wassenaar Arrangement. HL13805
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Baroness Wilcox on 28 November, whether they have considered the implications of the Wassenaar Arrangement and, in particular, dual use list category 5, part 2, for the export of surveillance technology in respect of equipment and software for executing signals collection from mobile phone systems. HL13806
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the reply of Baroness Wilcox (HL13224), what account they took of Article 4 (2)EU Council regulation (EC) No 428/2009, May 5th 2009, and the Council Decision of July 26th 2010, concerning restrictive measures against Iran, 2007/140/CFSP, Chapter 1, Article 1 (c), especially as it relates to “equipment which might be used for internal repression” in deciding not prevent the sale of surveillance equipment to Iran.
David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) (Crossbench)
Iran is responsible for systematic and egregious abuse of human rights. Thousands of political prisoners have been executed – including women and children. In the first half of this year an average of two people were executed each day.
Torture is routinely used in Iran. Demonstrators demanding reform have been rounded up and subjected to grotesque violations of their human dignity. Whipping, stoning, suspension from high ceilings or walls, submersion under water, mock executions and many other degrading treatments have all been reported.
Saeid Pourheydar is a young journalist who dared to speak out against the regime.
Following his arrest last year he was held in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. During his violent interrogation, prison officers knocked out his four front teeth, subjected him to a mock execution. It rapidly became clear that he was not merely fighting the regime but fighting British commercial interests too.
Pourheydar’s interrogators confronted him with his “entire phone history”. The regime had intercepted text messages and social networking which had enabled demonstrators to organise themselves and to let the rest of the world know what was happening. He says Britain has “blood on its hands.”
Pourheydar has evidence that British software was used to intercept his messages along with his movements and details of who he had met: “You don’t even have to be on the phone, they can simply track you down just through your mobile phone when it is lying on a coffee table.” While in prison he says that around half of the political prisoners recounted similar experiences and that police had hunted them down using their cell phones. Mansoureh Shojaee, a women’s rights activist was also held at Evin prison where she says “My mobile phone was my enemy, my laptop was my enemy, my landline was my enemy.”
There is evidence to suggest that the terrifying ability of a repressive State to monitor a hundred thousand targets has in part been achieved with the surveillance technology sold to the Iranians by a British Company, Creativity Software. It enables the regime to track a target’s movement every 15 seconds.
Britain has sold other suveillance technology throughout the region, to countries like Syria and Yemen.
The Department for Business – which continues to block my Private Members’ Bill to combat the re-export of arms, and which passed all its stages in the Lords with All Party support – says “The Government actively discourages all trade with Iran” and that “it doesn’t appear that the exporter has broken the law.” So what did they do to deter these sales? And since when has it been lawful to sell equipment or technology which can lead to the torture of journalists and human rights activists?
The sale of this technology is as lethal and dangerous as any weapon. From their virtual watchtowers Assad, Ahmajinedad, and the rest, seek to repress and control their populations by their iron grip. And while we sell them surveillance technology we aid and abet these odious regimes, assisting them to stay in power.
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