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Tech giants working with dictatorships need to be punished, says RSF

Perhaps you connect to the Internet using Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), you own a Cisco Systems router, or Netfirms is your web hosting company. According to a new report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), these companies and many other technology heavyweights are collaborating with dictatorships that jail bloggers and censor the Internet - and they deserve to be sanctioned.

In the report, RSF accuses NSN of providing Bahrain with technology to spy on the emails and text messages of dozens of human rights activists. (The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has also highlighted the role of NSN in providing tools to monitor - and arrest - human rights defenders and has appealed to the European Union for support in stopping companies from collaborating with repressive governments.)

Cisco is also named in RSF's report - for allegedly provided China with the technology to identify and censor political dissidents; and Netfirms for giving the Thai government info that enabled it to find the author of a pro-democracy blog. The report includes a summary of some of the worst offenders, including those operating in Libya and Syria.

"These companies no longer have any reservations about collaborating with criminal governments," RSF 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."

RSF is demanding that at the very least, financial sanctions are imposed on companies that work with criminal governments.

"Provision should be made at the national level for penalising such collaboration, and referral to the International Criminal Court should be considered when companies become the accomplices to war crime by dictators," said Julliard.

RSF also reiterates the need for international laws banning cooperation between companies and dictatorships, along the lines of the proposed Global Online Freedom Acts in the U.S. and EU. Both still await adoption.

Companies that cooperate with dictatorships must be sanctioned (RSF)

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