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Is the federal authorities serving to corporations promote surveillance expertise to repressive governments? Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) needs to know, however a federal subagency has been cagey in regards to the data. 

In a letter despatched on Saturday, Wyden requested the Worldwide Commerce Administration (ITA), a subagency of the Division of Commerce, for particulars about its function in serving to US companies promote their surveillance expertise to different international locations. Within the letter, Wyden—a privacy-minded lawmaker who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance—famous that he had been asking for a solution on the matter since final summer time.

In August of 2022, the ITA confirmed to Wyden that it “offers help” to corporations promoting surveillance expertise. However when requested, the subagency, Wyden writes, “didn’t present particulars on these actions” or the particular assist ITA has provided due to “unspecified authorized limitations to revealing extra [information].” In principle, this work falls inside ITA’s purview of selling US exports: ITA’s web site touts that it’ll assist corporations compete in overseas markets on every thing from “Metal” to “Aerospace and Protection.” However that doesn’t account for the potential purchaser: repressive regimes trying to crack down on civil liberties.

Wyden has good purpose for suspicion. When the ITA revealed posts on its web site showcasing arenas which are ripe for surveillance and safety expertise gross sales, the international locations talked about embrace not solely apparent allies like the UK, however additionally others with a historical past of abusing surveillance applied sciences, together with Honduras, the Philippines, and India.

Amnesty Worldwide has warned of the attainable harms of India’s rising urge for food for surveillance expertise, which is especially regarding in gentle of the elevated persecution of Muslims within the nation. In its market intelligence put up on India, the ITA didn’t point out this repression. As an alternative, in February, the ITA advised US companies that the “surveillance techniques market in India is rising” and “offers alternatives for U.S. exporters.” One other put up on “India’s surveillance and safety market” famous “enormous alternatives for U.S. corporations,” and that “surveillance techniques are in demand throughout all sectors.” 

Surveillance instruments have been utilized in Honduras to protect state energy and the drug commerce. An ITA put up on the nation in 2021 famous that the nation’s want to scale back murder and crime is a chance for safety expertise companies. The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Dueterte, has for years used surveillance expertise, probably abusing human rights. Nonetheless, in 2020 ITA promoted the Filipino market as “a chance in tasks that require high-end, superior, and complex expertise equivalent to airport safety screening options.” Posts from the ITA embrace notes on the backside encouraging US safety and surveillance corporations to contact company officers to “be taught in regards to the safety and expertise alternatives” within the case of Honduras, and for “additional data” relating to the sector within the case of the Philippines and India, offering emails for particular workers.

Wyden famous within the letter that on the March assembly the ITA talked about a forthcoming coverage that might govern how the subagency’s workers would “work together with surveillance expertise suppliers going ahead” however has not been supplied specifics. 

The ITA didn’t reply to a request for remark.

The Biden administration has signaled that it has an curiosity in curbing human rights abuses abetted by expertise, supporting the 2021 U.S.-EU Commerce and Expertise Council Joint Assertion—which requires the “deployment of latest applied sciences in ways in which … respect common human rights,” and “upholding freedom of expression and privateness rights,” amongst different protections.

“Given the [Biden] Administration’s said curiosity in limiting the human rights abuses made attainable by these applied sciences, ITA have to be clear about its previous and present promotion of those applied sciences overseas,” Wyden wrote.

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