On May 10, the Council of the European Union endorsed an overhaul of the “Dual-Use Regulation” which regulates exports of selected technologies that could be used by authoritarian countries such as China, in human rights abuses. The regulation, approved by the European Parliament in March, is now ready for official publication and implementation after 90 days.
What you need to know
- The rules will apply to technologies such as interception software, biometric surveillance (e.g., facial recognition), microchips or sensors and will task member states with licensing and potentially banning sales. In the process the member states will need to consider potential “use in internal repression or the commission of serious violations of international human rights,” a standard that has so far been applied to military tech. Several human rights organizations recommend toughening the measures. They point out that already existing controls of military goods exports are not always effectively implemented.
- The implementation of the rules will be brought to the EU-level, as the European Commission will be obliged to publish annual reports on surveillance technology exports licenses. Civil society organizations will be able to see which licenses have been granted by member states and where their products are being exported. Member states will have the right to propose licensing for new categories of cyber-surveillance tech, but this will in practice require unanimous support of EU27.
While the exact legal definition of risk to human rights is unclear, the new regulations are likely to affect exports to China, as the EU has made political decisions targeting China’s misconduct on human rights. The EU sanctions from March 2021 recognized the human rights violations in Xinjiang and the package of measures following National Security Law in Hong Kong in July 2020 included ban on export of surveillance tech. Reportedly, French, Swedish and Dutch companies have exported digital surveillance tools to Chinese state security agencies and entities in Xinjiang; with the new regulations in place such business deals could be banned. Not covered by the regulations, however, is another challenge that the EU needs to address - the potential transfer of surveillance technology through R&D cooperation between Chinese and European entities.