The UK continues to export surveillance tech to Turkey despite concerns that the same is being used by the country to suppress dissent and incarcerate journalists and human rights defenders.
Surveillance tech supplied by the UK may have directly aided the Turkish government in punishing public servants, political opponents, and journalists.
Data obtained by Motherboard through the Freedom of Information Act has revealed that earlier this year, the Department for International Trade granted an export license for ‘telecommunications interception equipment’ to be sold to Turkey.
While this wasn’t the first time that such a license was granted, it happened at a time when Turkey led the world when it came to suppressing dissent, jailing journalists and human rights defenders, dismissing public servants and carrying out a series of politically-motivated murders.
“It is ethically challenging to grant the sale of these tools where the accused have little or no access to justice in the context of an ongoing state of national emergency as exists in Turkey,” said Alp Toker, founder of digital rights group Turkey Blocks to Motherboard.
Motherboard believes that the surveillance tech sold to Turkey may include IMSI-catchers that can monitor mobile phones. Using such devices, a despotic government can easily track political opponents, journalists, and human rights defenders and also destroy every citizen’s right to privacy.
‘During the three months the UK government granted this latest license export, Turkey dismissed 4,400 public servants, dissidents raised claims of torture, and Human Rights Watch said the Turkish government jailed members of the democratic opposition,’ it noted.
Joshua Franco, a human rights researcher at Amnesty International, believes that the UK selling surveillance technology to Turkey is ‘scandalous’ and poses obvious ‘human rights risks’. He told Motherboard that the Turkish government’s crackdown on dissidents and opponents was well documented even before the UK granted such licenses.
Besides the UK, Turkey also receives surveillance equipment from Israel-based NSO Group which claims to only sell its surveillance products to governments. The firm’s prized possession is Pegasus which can not only record every action on a mobile phone but also self-destruct when it feels it had been compromised.
Pegasus can operate on both iOS and Android devices and is capable of keylogging, screenshot capture, live audio capture, email exfiltration, browser history exfiltration, messaging data exfiltration from WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Viber, and Kakao and keeping tabs on contacts and text messages.