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U.S., U.K. firms selling spy gear to repressive regimes, says report

The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper reports that a privacy group is raising the alarm about exports of surveillance equipment.

A privacy group is claiming that Britain is exporting high-tech spy gear to repressive countries, endangering dissidents, says a report in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper.

The Guardian reports that a group called Privacy International said it has identified at least 30 British companies it believes have exported surveillance gear to Bahrain, Iran, Syria, and Yemen, among other countries. The group also said 50 firms were exporting such technology from the U.S. and that Germany and Israel are also big exporters of spy gear.

The technology includes tools for monitoring mobile phone calls and text messages and for monitoring Internet traffic, as well as gear that lets users surreptitiously gain control of people's computers and of the microphones and cameras in their cell phones, the group claims.

The group said it contacted 160 companies about sales of such gear to repressive regimes but has so far received less than 10 denials, the Guardian reports.

The Guardian notes that WikiLeaks has posted what the document-dump Web site calls "a database of hundreds of documents from as many as 160 intelligence contractors in the mass surveillance industry."

The Guardian also notes that the European council has banned exports of surveillance gear to authorities in Iran and Syria, but that human rights groups say such technology is still being sold to private organizations in those countries.

The Guardian reports that it's up to manufacturers to make sure their gear isn't being used to violate human rights but that some people are now calling for legislators to step in and impose strict export controls and licensing.

The prime minister's office, the Guardian reports, told Privacy International that it was "'actively looking at this issue' and was working within the EU to introduce new controls on surveillance."