US and others pledge to control human rights exports

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration on Friday announced a partnership with Australia, Denmark, Norway, Canada, France, the Netherlands and the UK to try to stem the flow of sensitive technologies to governments authoritarian.

The partnership, named the Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative, calls on countries to align their policies with exports of key technologies and develop a voluntary written code of conduct for applying human rights criteria to export licensing, according to a statement from the White House.

The effort aims to tackle the rise of “digital authoritarianism” in countries like China and Russia, where advanced surveillance software and technologies have been used to hunt down dissidents and journalists, shaping public opinion. public and censor information deemed dangerous by the government.

The announcement was part of the final day of the Democracy Summit, the White House’s virtual gathering of officials from more than 100 countries aimed at strengthening democracies.

By working to synchronize export controls between countries, US officials hope to widen the net to prevent authoritarian countries from accessing important technologies, as well as to help companies operating in the United States operate in a more level playing field.

While a decade ago the internet was seen as a force for democracy and openness, today’s authoritarian governments have learned that big data, internet controls, artificial intelligence and the media social “could make them even more powerful”, Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States. Agency for International Development, said Friday at the virtual summit.

Ms Power said the United States will take a series of new steps over the next year to help set global standards for technology and human rights.

These measures include investing up to $ 20 million per year to significantly expand the Agency for International Development’s digital democracy work, working with like-minded countries to establish principles for open technology products. source and launching an initiative with Canada and Denmark to define how governments should use surveillance technology in a manner consistent with human rights and the rule of law.

The United States will also provide up to $ 3.75 million to fund new ‘democracy-affirming’ technologies, such as privacy-preserving artificial intelligence, and create a separate fund for anti-censorship technology. Ms. Power said.

The government’s use of export controls, especially against China, accelerated dramatically under the Trump administration, which imposed restrictions on ZTE, Huawei and other Chinese tech companies to prevent Beijing from ” access sensitive technologies such as quantum computing, advanced semiconductor chips and artificial intelligence. it could give its military an advantage or strengthen the Chinese surveillance state.

But critics say those measures, focusing only on U.S. exports, have failed to meet their targets. While companies that make products in the United States no longer ship certain products to China, competitors in Japan, Europe and elsewhere have continued to make sales. This has encouraged some high-tech companies to devote more spending to research and development outside the United States, in order to maintain access to the lucrative Chinese market.

Technology developed in the United States has also been used by authoritarian governments for more nefarious purposes, such as monitoring and censoring their citizens.

In a joint statement released on Friday, Australia, Denmark, Norway and the United States said that “authoritarian governments are increasingly using surveillance tools and other related technologies in serious human rights violations. human rights, both at home and across international borders, including in acts of transnational repression to censor political opposition and hunt down dissidents.

They added: “Such use risks compromising the benefits that advanced technologies can bring to the nations and peoples of the world. “

This week’s summit work included exploring how best to strengthen national legal frameworks, share information on threats and risks, and share and develop best practices to control technology exports, according to the report. a statement from the White House.

In the coming year, countries are expected to consult academics and industry on their efforts. Any decision on specific technology controls will be voluntary and left to the discretion of each country.

The Biden administration continued a trend, started under the Trump administration, of leveling the export controls of companies engaged in human rights abuses, including those that supported China’s crackdown on human rights abuses. Muslim minorities.

This week, the Biden administration announced new restrictions in Cambodia to tackle human rights abuses, corruption and the growing influence of the Chinese military in the country. In November, the administration blacklisted NSO Group, an Israeli tech company, claiming the company had knowingly provided spyware used to target the phones of dissidents, human rights activists and journalists.

The administration has also stepped up export control talks with Europe, through a partnership established this year called the Trade and Technology Council. But since there is no legal basis for imposing import bans in the European Union, decisions on these restrictions rest with its member states.

The United States is already part of a multilateral export control agreement called the Wassenaar Arrangement, which was established in 1996. But critics say the group, which has more than 40 members, including Russia, has evolved too slowly to keep pace with technological advancement. development.

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