10-24-2011By Meg Roggensack
Senior Advisor, Business and Human Rights
This weekend, the U.S. State Department was forced to pull Ambassador Robert Ford out of Syria due to security concerns stemming from his outreach to pro-democracy protestors and attacks on the American Embassy. But while the official representative of the United States to Syria was putting his personal safety on the line to support Syrians struggling for human rights, it appears that a U.S. company’s technology has been facilitating the regime’s crackdown.
Just yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Syria is censoring the internet and spying on its citizens using technology from Blue Coat Systems, a California-based Web security company. Blue Coat denies selling directly to Syria, which would be illegal under U.S. export laws. But the company’s responsibility doesn’t stop there. Given the nature of this technology, it’s fair to ask where the company is marketing its services and what steps the company has taken to ensure that its technology isn’t traded to countries under U.S. or international sanction.
As Secretary of State Clinton has made clear, the Assad regime has lost its legitimacy, and countries “ whose political and economic support give him comfort in his brutality” should “get on the right side of history” by ending those relationships. This is only the latest in a series of reports. Human Rights First urges the United States government to ask Blue Coat and other providers of similar technology about these reports and their policies to address misuse and resale. Based on those conversations, the US should determine whether additional restrictions or oversight is warranted to safeguard the international community’s shared interest in promoting stable and peaceful democratic transition in the middle east.