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Is the federal government assisting organizations sell surveillance technologies to repressive governments? Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) desires to know, but the federal subagency has been tight-lipped about the information and facts.

In a letter sent on Saturday, Wyden asked the International Trade Administration (ITA), a sub-agency of the Commerce Division, for particulars on its function in assisting US firms sell their surveillance technologies to other nations. In the letter, Wyden — a privacy-conscious lawmaker who chairs the Senate Finance Committee — noted that he had been looking for an answer to that query considering the fact that final summer season.

In August 2022, the ITA confirmed to Wyden that it was “giving help” to organizations promoting surveillance technologies. But when asked, the sub-agency, Weeden writes, “did not offer particulars of these activities” or the distinct help the ITA presented due to “unspecified legal obstacles to uncovering additional [information].” In theory, this operate falls beneath the ITA’s purview to market American exports: the ITA’s site says it will aid organizations compete in foreign markets in anything from “steel” to “aerospace and defense.” But that does not take into account the prospective purchaser: repressive regimes that want to suppress civil liberties.

Wyden has great explanation to be suspicious. When the ITA published posts on its site outlining arenas ripe for the sale of surveillance and safety technologies, the nations described integrated not only clear allies like the United Kingdom, but other folks with a history of abusing surveillance technologies, such as Honduras, the Philippines, and India.

Amnesty International has warned of the prospective harm of India’s increasing appetite for surveillance technologies, which is specifically worrying in light of the country’s enhanced persecution of Muslims. In its marketplace intelligence release on India, the ITA did not mention this crackdown. Rather, in February, the ITA told US firms that “the marketplace for surveillance systems in India is increasing” and “delivers possibilities for US exporters”. An additional post on “India’s surveillance and safety marketplace” noted “huge possibilities for US organizations” and that “surveillance systems are in demand across all sectors.”

Surveillance tools have been employed in Honduras to preserve state energy and drug trafficking. A 2021 ITA post on the nation noted that the country’s wish to cut down homicides and crime is an chance for safety technologies organizations. The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Dueterte, has been applying surveillance technologies for years, potentially abusing human rights. Nevertheless, in 2020, ITA promoted the Philippine marketplace as an “chance in projects that call for higher-finish, sophisticated and sophisticated technologies, such as airport safety screening options.” The ITA’s posts include things like notes at the bottom encouraging US safety and surveillance organizations to get in touch with agency officials to “understand about safety and technologies possibilities” in the case of Honduras, as nicely as for “further information and facts” associated to the sector in the case of the Philippines and India, giving e mail for distinct employees.

Weeden noted in the letter that the ITA described an upcoming policy at a March meeting that would govern how sub-agency employees “will interact with surveillance technologies providers going forward,” but was not offered specifics.

The ITA did not respond to a request for comment.

The Biden administration has signaled its interest in curbing technologies-induced human rights abuses by endorsing the 2021 US-EU Trade and Technologies Council Joint Statement—which calls for “the application of new technologies in methods that … respect universal human rights,” and “keeping freedom of expression and the ideal to privacy,” amongst other protections.

“Thinking of [Biden] “Simply because of the Administration’s expressed interest in limiting the human rights abuses enabled by these technologies, the ITA need to be transparent about its previous and existing promotion of these technologies abroad,” Weeden wrote.

By Editor