Denmark sold surveillance equipment to oppressive Gulf states: report

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Denmark sold surveillance equipment to oppressive Gulf states: report
A market in the Qatari capital Doha. File photo: Scanpix/AFP

Denmark sold technology enabling Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar to monitor critics of their regimes with the approval of state authorities, according to a report.


The equipment, which enables the countries to monitor their entire populations, was sold with the consent of Denmark’s authorities, reports the Information newspaper.

Aalborg-based BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, a subsidiary of British weapons giant BAE Systems, sold the advanced technology with the blessing of Danish authorities, according to the report.

The sale was approved by the Danish Business Authority, a government agency which answers to the Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs, in February 2016, shortly before a highly-criticised visit to Saudi Arabia by Danish business representatives, ministers and the Crown Prince and Princess.

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The approval given by the authority enabled the company to supply Saudi Arabia technology for “IP surveillance and data analysis for use in national security and investigation of serious crimes,” according to the report.

But the technology will certainly also be used to silence dissidents and other critics of the Saudi regime, said Helle Lykke Nielsen, professor of Middle East Studies at the University Of Southern Denmark.

“The regimes say that the equipment will be used to monitor terror activity and cyber crime. But in practice there’s no doubt that it also will be used against normal people and internal critics within the countries,” Nielsen told the Ritzau news agency.

The professor told Information there was “no chance” the regimes in the relevant countries would choose not to use the technology against peaceful critics.

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The deal with the Saudis is estimated to be worth up to 70 million kroner ($10.1 million).

Approval was also given for the Danish firm to sell the same system to Oman and Qatar, despite EU rules forbidding the use of European technology for oppression of citizens in dictatorships.

A researcher in mass surveillance told Information that the Danish technology could potentially be used to spy on the internet activity of entire populations.

“With this system it is possible to see which websites people are using, where they are going, and you can read all unencrypted emails and messages to or from people in the country,” senior researcher Nicholas Weaver of the University of California, Berkeley, said.

A former employee of BAE Systems Applied Intelligence confirmed the accuracy of this assessment to Information.

Human rights NGO Amnesty International criticised the approval of the sale by Danish authorities.

“If you can’t reject Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive countries in the world, then it’s hard to see who this couldn’t be sold to,” Amnesty International Denmark’s general secretary Trine Christensen told Information.

Minister for Business Brian Mikkelsen told Information in an email that he would look into tightening control of Danish exports.

Neither BAE Systems, the Danish Business Authority nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wished to make any comment to Information over the issue.

Mikkelsen and Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen have been summoned to a parliamentary hearing over the issue by the opposition Red-Green Alliance and Alternative parties, Ritzau reported on Thursday. 

READ ALSO: Saudi Arabia slams Norway on human rights


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