Technology

French spyware boss prosecuted for his role in torture of dissidents

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A senior executive of a French spyware company was prosecuted for selling surveillance software to the dictatorships in Libya and Egypt, which led to the torture and disappearance of dissidents.

Although high-tech surveillance is a global multi-billion dollar industry, companies or individuals rarely face legal consequences for selling such technologies-even to notorious dictatorships or other dangerous regimes. However, the Paris Judicial Court filed charges against the leader of Amesys, a surveillance company later renamed Nexa Technology, claiming that sales to Libya and Egypt over the past ten years have led to opposition suppression, torture of dissidents, and other human rights abuses .

Philippe Vannier, the former head of Amesys, and three current and former executives of Nexa Technology have been accused of “participating in acts of torture” for selling espionage technology to the Libyan regime.French media report Nexa President Olivier Bohbot, Managing Director Renaud Roques and former President Stéphane Salies face the same charges for selling surveillance equipment to Egypt.

“When you try to hold these companies accountable, you will see a lot of failures… We still face strong obstacles.”

Clémence Bectarte, International Federation of Human Rights

These charges were brought by the Court’s Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Unit, but the case began 10 years ago when Amesys sold its system for intercepting Internet traffic to the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi (Muammar Gaddafi). Six victims of espionage testified in France that they were arrested and tortured by the regime. They said this experience was a direct result of these espionage tools. In 2014, shortly after Egyptian President Abdel al-Sisi launched a military coup to take control of the country, the company sold him surveillance software.

A complaint filed by the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the French Federation of Human Rights stated that the company did not obtain government permission to sell its technology to Libya or Egypt because of weak supervision and sometimes non-existent. These claims have led to the ongoing independent judicial investigation of Amesys/Nexa. Next, if there is not enough evidence, the judge will decide whether to send the case to criminal court or dismiss it—but the indictment is an important step forward and shows that the judge may think that the evidence may be strong enough to support a criminal trial.

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