Human rights group brands five companies "enemies of the internet"


Human rights group Reporters Without Borders has named and shamed five companies it claims allowed their products to be used by countries with bad human rights records.

The group also named five countries as "enemies of the internet".

It said that five private sector companies; Gamma, Trovicor, Hacking Team, Amesys and Blue Coat are "digital era mercenaries". But admitted the overall list of companies it believed were involved in selling products to authoritarian regimes was "not exhaustive" and will be expanded in the coming months.

"They all sell products that are liable to be used by governments to violate human rights and freedom of information," the group said.

"Their products have been or are being used to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information. If these companies decided to sell to authoritarian regimes, they must have known that their products could be used to spy on journalists, dissidents and netizens."

It added that if surveillance products were sold to an authoritarian regime by an intermediary without their knowledge, "their failure to keep track of the exports of their own software means they did not care if their technology was misused and did not care about the vulnerability of those who defend human rights."

Research by Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab has established that surveillance technology used against dissidents and human rights defenders in such countries as Egypt, Bahrain and Libya came from western companies, it claimed.

The Paris-based group labelled Syria, China, Iran, Bahrain and Vietnam as "enemies of the internet" for their increased online surveillance in its report.

"Surveillance in these countries targets dissidents and has grown in recent months. Cyber attacks and intrusions, including the use of malware against dissidents and their networks, are on the increase," the group said.

It said there needed to be controls around the export of surveillance software and hardware to countries that flout fundamental rights.

"The private sector cannot be expected to police itself. Legislators must intervene," it said. "The European Union and the United States have already banned the export of surveillance technology to Iran and Syria."

It added that European governments need to take a harmonised approach to controlling the export of surveillance technology. While in the US, the Obama administration should also adopt legislation of this kind, legislation such as the proposed Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA).

RSF has launched an "online survival kit" for activists and journalists to better safeguard their privacy.

One of the companies named and shamed by Reporters Without Borders, Blue Coat, said in a statement that it respects and supports freedom of expression as well as the laws of the countries in which it conduct business. "We take care to ensure that our products are sold in accordance with those laws."

"We will continue to engage key stakeholders, including our channel partners, to review what further steps we can take to limit misuse of our products," it said.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.