dual-use items

EU votes to update export controls to better protect human rights

EU Trade Committee MEPs voted to extend EU export controls on goods and technologies designed for civilian use but possibly used for human rights violations (dual-use goods).

The EU is currently updating its rules on the export control of dual-use items to keep up with new technologies and prevent authoritarian regimes from spying on their own citizens with the help of European products. 

In addition to extending export controls to protect human rights, MEPs also voted to remove encryption technologies from the list of cyber-surveillance products, as they consider these vital for the self-defense of human rights defenders. The new rules were adopted in November 2017 by a vote of 34 to 1, with 2 abstentions. 

The full House will have to confirm the Parliament’s negotiating mandate. Talks with ministers can start as soon as EU member states have agreed on their own negotiating position.

Dual-use goods – goods and technologies designed for use in peaceful, civilian circumstances but that can also be used for weapons of mass destruction or terrorist attacks – are already under an EU export control regime.

The new proposed rules would enhance “human security” by adding certain cyber-surveillance tools to the list of items that need the approval of national authorities before being exported.

These items include devices for intercepting mobile phones, hacking computers, circumventing passwords, or identifying internet users. Such dual-use items are widely used around the world to suppress civilians, political opponents, and activists.
The EU Trade Committee MEPs want to strengthen the protection of human rights and create a “future-proof” system that can rapidly deal with new technologies.

Key suggestions:

  • Protections of the right to privacy, data, and freedom of assembly should be strengthened by adding clear-cut criteria and definitions to the regulation.
  • Exporters of products that are not listed in the regulation but could be used for human-rights violations should follow OECD-based “due diligence” guidelines to ensure that their goods don’t fall into the wrong hands.
  • The EU Commission should publish a handbook before the new rules come into effect so that EU businesses know what they can and cannot do.
  • New risks and technologies should be swiftly included in the regulation.
  • A level playing field among member states should be created by, for example, introducing similar penalties for non-compliance and greater transparency of national authorities’ export control decisions.

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