US will work with allies to limit the export of surveillance tools to authoritarian governments

The Biden administration will announce a new multilateral effort at the Summit for Democracy.

Kevin Lamarque / reuters

On the same day Reuters published a report on how NSO spyware may have been used to target State Department officials, the Biden administration announced the US would work with other countries to limit the export of surveillance software and other technologies to authoritarian governments. In a media event involving The Wall Street Journal, White House officials said the administration wants to coordinate with allies on a code of conduct related to export-licensing policies. Those involved in the effort would share information on tools used against political dissidents, journalists and foreign government officials.

The Biden Administration will announce the effort at the upcoming Summit for Democracy. The event, set to run for two days between December 9th and 10th, will see national governments and the private sector meet to discuss some of the challenges facing democracies in 2021 and beyond. Notably, China and Russia weren’t invited to attend the meeting.

Officials told The Journal the effort is in part a response to a global increase in the use of digital surveillance tools. “Technology is being misused by governments to surveil and, in some cases— as in the case of the [People’s Republic of China] — to control their population,” an administration official told the outlet. The effort could include some of the existing members of the Wassenaar Arrangement, a pact that sets voluntary export controls on military and dual-use technologies.

The initiative would build on work the US government is already doing to limit the export and resale of cyber intrusion software to China and Russia. At the end of October, the Commerce Department announced a new set of rules that will require companies that want to sell their hacking tools to countries “of national security concern” to obtain a license from the department before they can do so.

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