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18 October 2019
The US State Department recently solicited feedback on its draft US Government Guidance for the Export of Hardware, Software, and Technology with Surveillance Capabilities and/or Parts/Know-How, which was issued on 4 September 2019. The consultation period ended on 4 October 2019.
In the draft guidance, the State Department:
Ultimately, the draft guidance encourages exporters to:
Although the draft guidance – even when finalised – will not have the force of law, it seeks to impose additional human rights due diligence obligations on companies that export items with surveillance capabilities, including:
Some of these items are already subject to multilateral or unilateral export controls and are on the Commerce Control List. However, many are controlled only for anti-terrorism purposes or fall under the Export Administration Regulation (EAR) 99 catch-all. For example, some commercial unmanned aerial vehicles fall under Export Control Classification Number (ECCN) 9A012, while others are EAR99 and will soon stock holiday store shelves. GPS devices are "non-cooperative location tracking products", which should generally fall under ECCN 7A994.
For products that require a licence to be exported to particular countries (usually selected for such a review based on elements such as their human rights record), the government should already be conducting the bulk of the due diligence outlined in the draft guidance using government intelligence information. In particular, the US State Department already reviews licence applications for items controlled for crime control reasons to assess the likely impact on human rights.
Therefore, the draft guidance – if implemented – seeks to convince industry that it should be conducting its own due diligence on items that are not subject to export licensing to the vast majority of countries (eg, GPS devices and GoPro cameras) and the customers that want to buy them.
The US State Department offers several risk considerations and identifies detailed diligence steps and red flags for each. These include:
The draft guidance also contains two extensive appendices with human rights tools, reports and guidance, as well as government laws, regulations and practices that could raise human rights concerns. Such concerns include:
Critically, the draft guidance identifies no specific country or region where such human rights concerns may be likely, but rather provides a broad framework against which to assess the export of items with surveillance capabilities. The draft guidance is not mandatory but may be a source of influence on future controls of items with surveillance capabilities.
Although the industry will likely be supportive of the draft guidance, as it is not a legal requirement, it may question who will foot the bill for such diligence. Reviewing whether a non-US government's laws, regulations and practices that implicate surveillance capabilities are consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights takes time, possibly a law degree and likely a lot of money. In addition, the use of an end-use certificate executed by the customer, which has long been a tool to assist in ensuring products are not used for weapons of mass destruction restricted end uses, is not particularly helpful in this context as no customer will state that the product will be used to spy and crackdown on dissidents.
Moreover, some of the items implicated can be used as powerful weapons against human rights abuses – such as body cameras that can be used to record and bring to light human rights abuses. How does a company weigh the risks of misuse against these benefits? Further, what if the US administration is already sending export-controlled defence articles and US troops to the country in question? Does that mean it is acceptable to send the GoPro to that country's police department or other government end user? Arguably, these are tasks and decisions that are more readily handled by the US State Department itself, which has both the legal skills and the requisite intelligence information.
Moreover, this draft guidance could foreshadow new export controls and a US State Department review. In light of the potential upcoming controls of advanced surveillance technologies as part of BIS's review of emerging technologies,(1) companies involved in such technologies should take particular note of the draft guidance.
For further information on this topic please contact Kay C Georgi, Regan K Alberda or Matthew Tuchband at Arent Fox LLP's Washington DC office by telephone (+1 202 857 6000) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). Alternatively, contact Marwa M Hassoun at Arent Fox LLP's Los Angeles office by telephone (+1 213 629 7400) or email (email@example.com). The Arent Fox LLP website can be accessed at www.arentfox.com.
(1) Further information is available here.
Sylvia G Costelloe, associate, and Aman Kakar, associate, assisted in the preparation of this article.
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