The Intersection of Export Controls and Human Rights: Combating the Misuse of Technologies to Curb Human Rights Abuses

How do you sort out the difficult and typically seemingly insurmountable downside of human rights abuses round the world? The U.S. authorities sometimes makes use of a spread of instruments: diplomatic efforts, worldwide assist, sanctions, import restrictions on pressured labor – the entire carrot-and-stick universe. Enter… Export Controls.


Final Friday, at the Summit for Democracy, the United States, Australia, Denmark, and Norway, introduced a brand new multilateral partnership, the Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative, to curb the misuse of applied sciences by governments to repress their peoples. Canada, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom additionally expressed help for the initiative. The joint statement by the partnering international locations famous that “authoritarian governments increasingly are using surveillance tools and other related technologies in connection with serious human rights abuses” together with to “censor political opposition and track dissidents.”

The Biden administration has taken a quantity of actions that exhibit a give attention to utilizing export and commerce coverage instruments to handle human rights abuses, together with:

  • Entity Checklist Additions: The Commerce Division has added many entities to the Entity Checklist proscribing any exports of objects topic to the Export Administration Rules to designated people and entities, (1) in reference to human rights abuses in China of the Uyghur, Kazakh, and different Muslim minority teams; (2) in reference to the Burmese navy following the coup in Burma; and (3) in reference to the provide of spyware and adware to overseas governments used to goal journalists, activists, teachers, officers and embassy employees.

  • Cyber-intrusion Software program Controls: In October, the Commerce Division issued an interim last rule that may impose controls on the export, re-export, or switch of sure cybersecurity instruments and associated expertise that can be utilized for hacking and different malicious cyber actions. The rule would goal custom-made hacking instruments which have been misused to surveil residents outdoors of legit regulation enforcement and intelligence purposes.

  • Nationwide Motion Plan to Fight Human Trafficking. In early December, the White Home revealed an motion plan on combatting human trafficking, together with pressured labor. The plan duties the USTR to “consider all options to combat forced labor” together with participating allies to battle pressured labor. Moreover, the plan requires elevated efforts all through federal businesses (e.g., DOJ’s Human Trafficking Unit, FBI’s Crimes Towards Kids and Human Trafficking Unit, and DHS Heart for Countering Human Trafficking) to examine and prosecute novel instances in opposition to corporations that profit from pressured labor inside their provide chains.

Key Takeaways and What to Anticipate

  • Elevated Cooperation. Although the creation of the new plurilateral partnership doesn’t have an instantaneous impression on present export controls, we are able to count on to see larger collaboration between international locations on guaranteeing that commerce controls are centered round human rights, particularly impacting applied sciences associated to cyber intrusion, surveillance, and different twin use applied sciences typically used to crack down on dissenters.

  • Code of Conduct. The partnership has dedicated to, amongst different issues, making a voluntary written code of conduct supposed to information the utility of human rights standards to export licensing coverage and observe (see here). Compliance insurance policies that embody human rights issues might turn into extra of a market normal given the growth of ESG issues in M&A, investments, and stakeholder engagement on these points (see our weblog put up here). Corporations that deal in dual-use applied sciences that would doubtlessly be used to commit human rights abuses ought to think about getting forward of the recreation by contemplating how to improve their current insurance policies and procedures to proactively handle these points.

  • Rising Expertise Controls.  In November 2018, the Commerce Division revealed an Advance Discover of Proposed Rulemaking looking for public touch upon standards for “identifying emerging technologies that are essential to U.S. national security, for example because they have potential conventional weapons, intelligence collection, weapons of mass destruction, or terrorist applications or could provide the United States with a qualitative military or intelligence advantage.” Many of the applied sciences listed might doubtlessly be misused by repressive governments, together with Synthetic intelligence (AI) and superior surveillance applied sciences (e.g., facial recognition applied sciences) (see here). As the guidelines are proposed, we may even see stricter controls on applied sciences that pose a risk of being misused to abuse human rights.

It’s clear that this authorities is incorporating human rights issues into its commerce, export and sanctions coverage in a significant approach. And hopefully, it’s right here to keep. Corporations that deal in delicate applied sciences can get forward of the curve by integrating human rights-related diligence and issues into their compliance framework.

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