There are 77 UK companies producing cryptography equipment for monitoring secure communications, according to MP Ann McKechin

Arms regulations urged for internet surveillance systems

New arms sale regulations urgently need to be introduced to clamp down on the export of electronic surveillance technology.

A Dubai-based firm has produced equipment, known as Cerebro, which operates in a similar way to UK intelligence agencies Tempora programme, used to extract and process so-called metadata – times and addresses but not content – about content sent online.

Ann McKechin said 77 British companies were in the business of producing cryptography equipment aimed at monitoring secure communications.

In a Westminster Hall debate on a major Parliamentary arms control committee report, the Glasgow North MP urged the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to make sure regulations similar to those imposed on conventional weapons were introduced.

She said: "When we analyse the nature of exports to many countries across the world, much is actually in the issue of cryptography and the increased reliance on surveillance systems.

"I'm sure the minister (Michael Fallon) will have read in the Guardian on Monday about the sale of mass surveillance technology by private firms, including many based here in the United Kingdom. I understand Piracy International has details of over 330 companies, including 77 based in the United Kingdom offering a total of 97 different technologies which cover a vast spectrum.

"There are disturbing stories about dissidents being hacked not only in their own national country but also some currently living here as refugees in the United Kingdom.

"Some fairly small, relatively unknown companies are now involved in this sector and given the scale of the equipment is of course exceptionally portable and, with technical specifications which change rapidly, detection of illegal enforcements is bound to be difficult.

"The power and reach of this is considerable. One product marketed by a Dubai-based company is a device called Cerebro which is a DIY system similar to the Tempora programme run by GCHQ which has the ability to tap information from fibre optic cables carrying internet traffic. It can analyse in real time texts, mobile calls, billing data, emails and social networks.

"It is unacceptable we currently have a growing market which lacks either effective oversight or accountability. I hope given the serious potential for harm, the United Kingdom will take as promised a leading role in providing effective regulation."

Responding to the debate, Business Minister Mr Fallon said licences for £8bn of cryptographic equipment to Israel had recently been agreed. The equipment was exported for use in building public mobile phone networks.

He said: "These items are subject to export control because of their encryption and information security capability. That capability, it must be said, is a standard feature of the mobile network and the goods are for purely commercial end use.

"Again, we assess them against the consolidated and national criteria. A licence would not have been issued where there was a clear risk the proposed export might have been used for something else: for internal repression or for provoking or prolonging internal conflict, or could be used aggressively against another state."

Recent articles

Info Message

Our sites use cookies to support some functionality, and to collect anonymous user data.

Learn more about IET cookies and how to control them