In November 2011, the EU amended its general export authorization for telecommunications equipment to disallow the export of NSTs intended for use in violating human rights, democratic principles, or freedom of speech. This restriction is triggered when the exporter has been informed by its national government or is otherwise aware that the purchaser may use the NST at issue for those restricted purposes.
As a practical matter, this restriction requires NST exporters to conduct due diligence to determine the purchaser’s intended use for the NST. Among the due diligence steps is to check whether the purchaser is identified on any existing restricted lists issued by a national government, which may indicate that the purchaser would use the NST to violate human rights, democratic principles, or freedom of speech.
Widespread attention to the Arab Spring and the use of NSTs by repressive regimes prompted the EU to take additional action. In December 2011 and in January 2012, the EU imposed additional restrictions on NST exports to Syria specifically. The EU passed a similar measure imposing sanctions on Iran in March 2012.
Then, in April 2012, the EU parliament passed a resolution to improve the monitoring of NST exports to certain countries. The restriction also included a requirement that the export of services related to NSTs be monitored as well. The resolution followed formal requests by the EU parliament for an investigation into whether EU companies contributed to human rights violations by selling NSTs to countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, and Iran.
In the United States, comprehensive, preexisting sanctions against countries such as Iran and Syria should have prohibited NST exports to those countries. Unlawful sales of NSTs have still occurred, however, as highlighted by press reports, leading to a flurry of developments in the United States.
In the U.S. Congress, a bill (H.R. 3605) is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives that would impose a number of requirements related to Internet freedoms in foreign countries. Among other things, the bill would require that the U.S. government report on each foreign country’s Internet freedoms and designate any country that is responsible for a systematic pattern of substantial restrictions on the Internet as an “Internet-restricting” country.