In brief: The EU has announced an agreement to make the international sale of surveillance technology more transparent. These new rules create a framework for democratic countries in the EU, and an example to countries worldwide, to perform their due diligence regarding the humanitarian effects of their exported technology.
The European Union announced today that surveillance technology used in applications such as facial recognition, hacking, and spyware would have tighter restrictions going forward.
According to the legislation, companies must obtain a license from their governments to sell certain products abroad that might have military applications. Governments are also obliged by this new agreement to share information publicly about the licenses they grant.
“Today is a win for human rights globally, and we set an important precedent for other democracies to follow suit,” said Markéta Gregorová, an MEP and one of the negotiators of the agreement. “The world’s authoritarian regimes will not be able to secretly get their hands on European cyber-surveillance anymore.”
Realistically, these rules serve as an infrastructure for visibility among EU member states and more widely as an example to other democratic nations. The goals are seemingly to prevent, or at least curtail, sales of such surveillance equipment for short-term profit to governments like China and Russia that have a history of using it maliciously upon Western countries.
Another goal stated by the agreement is to improve due diligence by individual European companies. Selling products abroad is likely a necessity for many organizations, so depending on the enforcement by member states, these companies must be cognizant of the downstream effects of their technology.
The EU’s presidency is held by a member state on a 6-month rotation, and Germany currently holds the role until December. It is apparent that the German government made clearing this legislation a priority before it passes the baton.