Parliament calls for bans on EU exports of information technology that can be used by repressive regimes to censor information, conduct mass surveillance and track people's movements in two separate resolutions voted on Tuesday and Thursday. In a third resolution, passed on Thursday, MEPs urge the EU to reinforce its work with civil society instead of focusing on relations with authorities.
"European companies and their subsidiaries and subcontractors should play a key role in the promotion and dissemination of social standards worldwide", says the resolution on human rights and democracy in the world in 2011.
MEPs welcome Council decisions to ban the export of certain information technologies to Syria and Iran and urge the European Union to consider this as a precedent for restrictive measures against other repressive regimes in future.
They deplore the fact that certain EU companies have given authoritarian regimes unlimited access to their networks and databases under the excuse of following their clients' local law, as was the case with the EU-based company TeliaSonera in several former Soviet countries.
”If we do not assume responsibility for human rights activists and defenders, we will have nothing to defend and fight for”, said the rapporteur for the annual human rights report, Leonidas Donskis (ALDE, LT).
Need for ”digital diplomacy”
In the resolution on a digital freedom strategy, MEPs add that the EU should mainstream the promotion and protection of digital freedoms in all its external actions. A new digital freedom strategy should include conditionality clauses in EU free trade agreements with third countries, preserving unrestricted access to the internet and ensuring the free flow of information.
Companies should also ensure their products cannot be involved in possible human rights violations in third countries, they add.
"The EU must update its human rights policies to match the revolutionary impact technologies have on freedom of speech, association, and access to information", said the rapporteur, Marietje Schaake (ALDE, NL) "We must stop exports of digital weapons to countries where they are used for mass censorship, mass surveillance and the tracking and tracing of human rights defenders."
Work with civil society, not only with authorities
In the resolution on the EU's human rights strategy, MEPs point to the lessons of the Arab Spring and highlight the need for effective partnerships between the EU and governments and civil society in partner countries instead of focusing on relations with the authorities.
“In order to be credible, the Union has to make sure we are coherent and consistent in the way we approach human and fundamental rights, at home or abroad. For the European Union, a human rights policy cannot just be something that we do at the end of the day, a mere appendix to other policies”, said the rapporteur, Rui Tavares (Greens/EFA, PT).