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EU Says Syria Spyware Ban Covers E-Mail Probes, Remote Infection

The European Union’s ban on exports of surveillance technology to Syria includes equipment that can peer into the contents of e-mail or intercept telephone text messages, according to regulations published today.

The rules, which are meant to curb human rights abuses during a crackdown that’s killed more than 5,000 people, bar the sale or transfer of such gear to any person or entity in Syria. The new details flesh out a general ban on such sales to Syria that the 27-nation bloc passed on Dec. 1 following reports the regime was procuring and using such technology.

The ban covers sales, maintenance and updates of systems for “deep-packet inspection” of e-mail contents, remote infection of computers, speaker recognition, “tactical” interception of text messages and several other technologies, the regulations say.

Bloomberg News reported Nov. 4 that an Italian company, Area SpA, was building a surveillance system that would have given Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime the power to intercept, scan and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country.

Following the report, Area said it is exiting the deal and the project won’t be completed. The Italian system included components from German, French and U.S. companies.

The rules published today say member states have the authority to permit exceptions to export such gear, yet are barred from doing so if the equipment would be used by the Syrian government for monitoring or intercepting communications.

Member nations must inform the EU of exceptions it makes within four weeks of authorization of an export, the rules say.

Syria uses such technology to track and torture dissidents, advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch say.

Earlier last year, Telecomix, a group of online activists, discovered that technology from a U.S. company, Blue Coat Systems Inc. (BCSI), was filtering web sites inside of Syria.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Melissa Pozsgay at mpozsgay@bloomberg.net

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