If adopted, the position taken by the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom in a working paper leaked to the media last week would constitute a step backward for the fight to control surveillance technology.
The nine countries want laxer controls on surveillance software exporters and claim that controlling the software on the list recommended by RSF and Others “could seriously undermine the competitiveness of EU-based industry.”
"This is a step backward for press freedom and protection of journalists' sources,” said Elodie Vialle, the head of RSF’s Journalism and Technology desk. "Today, journalists are being spied on or arrested with the help of European surveillance technologies, which discourages the exchange of information. EU member states have to enforce stronger, not weaker export control standards to protect journalists worldwide."
The nine countries circulated their working paper as part of the discussions about a proposal to tighten EU regulations on the export of dual-use technology, including surveillance software, to authoritarian regimes in order to prevent its use to violate human rights.
After the European Commission issued the original proposal in 2016, a coalition of NGOs including RSF said it should be amended in order to take greater account of the need to protect human rights, including the protection of journalists’ sources.
Many of the NGOs’ suggestions were incorporated into the version that the European Parliament approved at the end of 2017. It is this version that is now being discussed by member countries before its final approval.