U.K. Mulls Ban on Sale of Tracking Software to Iran and Syria

The U.K. government is examining whether to ban the sale of mobile-phone surveillance software to Iran and Syria, Business Minister Judith Wilcox said.

Wilcox, answering questions in Parliament today about exports to Iran of software that can be used to help track, arrest and repress opposition activists, said the coalition government is actively considering controls on such products.

“We take any reports of exports being misused overseas very seriously, and the extent to which export controls should apply to surveillance equipment is something the government is considering actively, particularly in relation to Syria and Iran,” Wilcox told lawmakers in the House of Lords in London. “Surveillance technology at the moment is not controlled under our current export licensing system, as it has legitimate applications.”

Creativity Software Ltd., a British technology company, has exported software to Iran legitimately, Wilcox said, and the questioning of companies over exports to “difficult countries” is “very robust” to ensure that the technology is not misused. The company sold a system this year that enables Iranian law-enforcement and security forces to monitor mobile-phone locations, Bloomberg News reported on Oct. 31, citing three people familiar with the transaction.

Creativity, based in Kingston-upon-Thames in southwest London, confirmed it supplies mobile-phone operator MTN Irancell Telecommunications Services Co. with location-based services technology in a statement posted on its website. The company declined to discuss sales of any location-tracking gear for law-enforcement purposes, saying that would breach contract confidentiality.

“Alongside our EU counterparts we are supporting the progress of EU restrictions on surveillance software to Syria,” Wilcox said. “All member states have agreed in principle to the prohibition to sell, supply, transfer or export equipment for the monitoring of the internet or telephone communications on mobile or fixed networks.”

Area SpA, an Italian company that had been building an Internet surveillance system in Syria, has quit the project, according to the newspaper la Repubblica, which cited a lawyer for the firm.

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