Syria – Weapons of Mass Surveillance

As the world holds its breath waiting for the global community’s reaction to the developments in Syria, Netopia asks if there is a digital angle to the story. In the early days of Syrian protests in the wake of the Arab Spring, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt vetoed an EU embargo on sales of surveillance technology to the Syrian regime. The reason was Sweden’s #1 tech company Ericsson – which accounts for a significant proportion of the Stockholm stock market value – had dealings with the Al-Assad government. When confronted with the allegations that this technology was used to monitor and arrest dissidents (such as locating mobile phone subscribers in a protest, for example), foreign ministry spokespersons replied it is “dual use technology” and “better we sell it than someone else”. It is worth bearing this in mind the next time somebody claims that digital technology spreads freedom and democracy. (See also Mariam Kirollos’s column on the myth of the social media revolution in Egypt.)