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A visitor walks past company exhibition stands at the Cybertech 2019 conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, on January 29, 2019. Reuters reported on August 22, 2019, that Israel has eased export controls on surveillance technologies. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

Israel eased export controls on surveillance technologies amid criticism

August 22, 2019 4:53 PM ET

New York, August 22, 2019--Israeli officials confirmed that, under a rule change by the Defense Ministry, Israeli surveillance companies are able to obtain exemptions on marketing license for the sale of some products to certain countries, Reuters reported today. It is not clear which companies, and which products, were impacted; however, Reuters reported that the change took effect about a year ago.

Israel is a major exporter of surveillance technology, according to a June 2019 report by U.N. Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression David Kaye, which called for a global moratorium on such exports until a human rights compliant regime was put in place. The relative size of each country's surveillance sector is hard to track, given the secretive nature of the industry, but Kaye described Israel as "a major player in the surveillance technology market” in his June 2019 report.

CPJ has reported on how Israeli-exported technology undermines press freedom globally by allowing authorities to track reporters and potentially identify their sources. The Mexican government, for instance, has deployed Pegasus malware, sold by Israeli firm NSO Group, to infiltrate the cellphones of at least nine journalists in Mexico, according to research published by Citizen Lab, at the University of Toronto.

“Over and over again, we see Israeli technology facilitating press freedom abuses around the world, by lending a hand to governments that want to track and monitor reporters,” said CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch in Washington, D.C. “An unregulated surveillance industry is bad for press freedom. The Israeli government should heed the U.N. Special Rapporteur’s call to respect human rights in its export policies.”

The Israeli Ministry of Defense did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for clarification.

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