Human rights organisations file OECD complaints against surveillance firms Gamma International and Trovicor
Privacy International, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain Watch and Reporters Without Borders filed formal complaints with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the UK and Germany against two surveillance companies on Friday 1st February and Wednesday 6th February, respectively. The British and German OECD National Contact Points are being asked to investigate Gamma International and Trovicor respectively with regards to both companies’ potential complicity in serious human rights abuses in Bahrain.
The complainants argue that there are grounds to investigate whether surveillance products and services provided by Gamma International and Trovicor have been instrumental in multiple human rights abuses in Bahrain, including arbitrary detention and torture, as well as violations of the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association. They allege that there is evidence that information gathered from intercepted phone and internet communications may have been used to systematically detain and torture political dissidents and activists and to extort confessions from them. If the allegations are upheld, the companies are likely to be found to be in breach of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, recommendations addressed by governments to multinational enterprises that set out principles and standards for responsible business conduct.
The UK’s NCP is based at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the German NCP is based at the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. If the NCPs accept the complaints against Gamma and Trovicor, they will then:
- investigate the extent of the defendants’ complicity in human rights abuses in Bahrain;
- mediate between complainants and defendants;
- issue final statements on whether OECD Guidelines have in fact been breached;
- provide recommendations to the defendants on how to avoid further breaches; and
- follow up in order to ensure that they comply with those recommendations.
Maryam Al-Khawaja, Acting President at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said:
“The victims were confronted with statements they had made in confidential phone talks or emails. There is evidence of grave widespread human rights violations, including the use of the internet as a tool to target dissidents. Accountability for enablers of these human rights violations becomes crucial in putting a stop to the violations. ”
Eric King, Head of Research at Privacy International, said:
“The failure of governments to properly control exports of surveillance technology has left companies like Gamma and Trovicor regulated exclusively by their own moral compasses. Unfortunately, these compasses seem to have malfunctioned and directed companies towards some of the most dangerous and repressive regimes in the world. We very much hope the OECD process will persuade Gamma and Trovicor to take a long hard look at their current and future clients, and to think carefully about the role their products play in the targeting and torture of activists and the suppression of pro-democracy voices.”
Miriam Saage-Maaß, Vice Legal Director at ECCHR, said:
“If it is true, that the companies maintain permanent business relations with the state of Bahrain, they run the risk that they may be accused of abetting torture and other grave human rights violations. Such actions may amount to a violation of the OECD Guidelines.”
Christian Mihr, Executive Director of Reporters Without Borders Germany, said:
“Unregulated trade with surveillance technologies in authoritarian states is one of the biggest threats to press freedom and human rights work on the internet. Exports of such digital arms have to be made subject to the same restrictions as foreign dealings with traditional arms.”