Human rights leaders at Davos: spyware is a weapon
It’s time to halt the unchecked surveillance technology industry.
This press conference brings together some of the world’s leading civil society organizations assembled at the World Economic Forum in Davos. We stand together to red flag how the spyware industry has become an urgent threat to human rights and security, and the risks if world leaders don’t take a stand against the current state of surveillance technology and its government purchasers.
Surveillance technology is being weaponized to commit gross human rights violations across the globe. Scaling up their operations in the dark, developers make their fortunes supplying this dangerous tech to governments seeking to intimidate and silence dissenting voices, undermine trust in digital systems, and expand their arsenal for digital repression.
Panelists will explore actions that world leaders can take to show responsible leadership amidst this proliferation of spyware technology, including:
- Reassessing business with, or investment in, spyware vendors;
- Reining in the trade in cyber vulnerabilities;
- Identifying and instilling best corporate practices to isolate abusive actors;
- Advocating for, promoting, and supporting investigations into human rights violations in relation to the use of spyware, and providing redress and remedy to the victims;
- Joining lawsuits and participating in hearings and inquiries to achieve justice for victims and assert the rule of law; and
- Lobbying governments to establish a moratorium limiting the sale, transfer, and use of abusive spyware, and to reform surveillance laws to protect human rights.
Call to Action
We, as human rights defenders, are calling on decision makers gathered at Davos to take action that protects everyone — from world leaders to the world’s most marginalized.
We call on all stakeholders to join us in publicly condemning the state of this dangerous trade, and initiating a moratorium limiting the sale, transfer, and use of abusive spyware until people’s rights are safeguarded under international human rights law.
Under mounting global pressure, the acceptance of this trade is faltering:
- Governments are setting new standards: the European Union is implementing export controls for dual use surveillance technology, launching investigations and inquiries into the industry, and aiming to codifying UN and OECD business and human rights principles into law; and the United States is strengthening cybersecurity export rules, launching a multilateral Code of Conduct on surveillance exports, and restricting business with NSO Group and Candiru;
- Global actors are demanding change: international human rights experts, civil society, and the government of Costa Rica are pushing for a moratorium on spyware sales; and
- Corporations are taking action: Amazon has booted NSO Group off its infrastructure; Google is working to enhance the global understanding of sophisticated zero-days exploits; and WhatsApp and Apple are suing NSO Group in US courts.
States hold the primary power — and the duty — to force an end to this trade and use of abusive tech. Leaders must bring their sanctions regimes, export controls, and surveillance oversight into the digital age, targeting first the spyware industry that erodes human rights. Companies have a responsibility to ensure that this pernicious industry comes to an end, and civil society organizations will continue to raise their voices and demand justice for the most vulnerable.
It’s time to shut down the unchecked spyware industry.