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Companies that cooperate with dictatorships must be sanctioned, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - 2 September 2011 - Reporters Without Borders condemns the criminal cooperation that exists between many western companies, especially those operating in the field of new technologies, and authoritarian regimes.

"These companies no longer have any reservations about collaborating with criminal governments," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. "Providing dictatorships with communication equipment or confidential data is irresponsible. A total of 122 bloggers and netizens are currently detained worldwide. The companies that work with these governments are complicit and responsible for the fate of these detainees. Financial sanctions should be imposed on companies collaborating with governments that jail bloggers or censor the Internet.

"Without financial sanctions, these practices will not stop. Companies are not above the law. There are courts that try illicit practices by companies. Why shouldn't they try the criminal responsibility of companies that collaborate with regimes that are guilty of crimes? A provision should be made at the national level for penalizing such collaboration, and referral to the International Criminal Court should be considered when companies become the accomplices to war crimes by dictators. After being concerned about impunity for dictators, the world should now be worrying about impunity for companies."

"Human lives are at stake. Must they be sacrificed for the sake of profits? The leaders of international companies operating in the new technology domain, especially telecommunications surveillance, in Libya, Syria, Burma, China, Turkmenistan and other authoritarian counties should think about their responsibility. Their tools, their equipment and their know-how are being used for criminal purposes."

These technologies are at the heart of a new war. Emails can now be intercepted, Skype calls can be recorded, webcams can be turned on remotely and Internet content can be modified without the users knowing. Reporters Without Borders urges Internet users to be much more careful.

Reporters Without Borders reiterates the need for legislation banning cooperation between companies and dictatorships on the lines of the proposed Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA) in the United States and its European equivalent. Like the EU regulations on trade in products that could be used for "capital punishment, torture or other cruel treatment," there is now a need to introduce international regulations on the provision of technology that threatens cyber-citizens, to control the export of certain technologies, to create a monitoring body that is independent of governments and to have dissuasive sanctions ready. Companies should also have legal and official recourse against measures in countries like China or Iran that force them to obstruct the free flow of information.

Click here to read the full report

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