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UK Government Faces Lawsuit Over Surveillance Exports 28

judgecorp writes "The UK government has been threatened with legal action, over its failure to block exports of espionage technology to oppressive regimes. British firms have sold covert surveillance equipment to the former Egyptian regime, as well as to Iran and Syria in recent months, and pressure group Privacy International has sent a letter asking for a change of policy and an update of export restrictions — backed by a threat that it will take the government to court if there is no response."
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UK Government Faces Lawsuit Over Surveillance Exports

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  • First Assad gets one from the UN, and now the UK government will get one from a non-profit group! These horrible actions don't go without consequences!

  • Yeah? Whose court? Most governments enjoy sovereign immunity.

    • by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Monday July 23, 2012 @04:50PM (#40741635) Journal

      Yeah? Whose court? Most governments enjoy sovereign immunity.

      Well, not exactly in the UK []. Perhaps the threatened case would involve a writ of mandamus against the relevant ministers.

      • by Grumbleduke ( 789126 ) on Monday July 23, 2012 @09:39PM (#40744551) Journal

        Put simply, the UK Government doesn't have sovereign immunity because it isn't actually sovereign. Under the UK constitution, it is Parliament that is sovereign (and so no act of Parliament can be questioned in another court - in theory), the government is bound by all sorts of things, usually via a judicial review [] or under Human Rights/EU law issues. If the Government breaks the law, it can sometimes be done for it.

        Actually, the monarch also has various immunities - I guess there are advantages to having a non-political/hereditary head of state; you're less likely to want to bring a case against them for screwing up stuff...

  • This is how to bring third world countries into the first world. Let their governments spy on their people! That's how we do it in the 'western' world, after all!

  • I visited London once a couple of years ago and there was a security camera every few yards on the streets. So why are they all upset about exporting the things? Aren't the cameras all made in China anyway?

    • Note the lawsuit is about exporting to oppressive regimes, not importing into one.

    • A lot of those cameras aren't actually owned by the government, and most of them cover public spaces. There's a general idea that what you do in public is kind of public (but isn't strictly true, legally). What these companies are selling is monitoring and spying tech; stuff to monitor Internet access, break through encryption, profile and track people... all that sort of stuff.

      Actually, just the sort of thing the UK government is planning to implement in its Comms Data Bill. I guess now that the market for

      • by Xest ( 935314 )

        What a lot of people miss is that many cameras they see are also just ANPR cameras which don't even store images, they simply read number plates and if a number plate is on the no insurance list or whatever an alert is sent out.

        Similarly some people believe speed cameras are constantly filming or can constantly film, and stream back to some HQ, the reality is many of them don't even send back still, and they all only take still shots if you are actually speeding.

        It's like with RIPA, where people still repea

  • Oh, I see what ypu did there.

    Which, of course, is the whole problem when governmemt does it. Or when government forbids the people from doing it to governmemt.

  • There was a whole episode of Yes Minister on this arms export topic. I'm sure what happened in that (hilarious) episode, is spot on.

    • Sir Humphrey wrote an extremely vague letter for the Minister that, whilst saying there was a problem they might want to look at, said it in such a way that it could easily be misinterpreted as not being something the Prime Minister need concern them self with, thus covering both the Minster's and the Prime Minister's arses, should it ever come out in public.

  • British firms have sold covert surveillance equipment to the former Egyptian regime, as well as to Iran and Syria in recent months...

    Perhaps it's just me but shouldn't said British firms be the ones to be punished?

    • I suspect the firms fully adhered to the export regulations and obtained the permits required.

      In fact having just skimmed over TFA, it seems Privacy International are mostly trying to point out that the export control list needs updating (at least in their opinion). Egypt most likely did not appear on the control list, so the firms were fully entitled to sell to them.

  • What law had been broken? They never quote any legal reason to file a suit except that they do not like it.

  • the law wasn't broken the sales were legal. Privacy International wishes to get a judicial review and take out an injunction on the uk not for selling the equipment but because they dont like the countries or governments that they have been sold too.

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