Supreme Court To Decide If Tech Firms Can Be Responsible For Assisting In Human Rights Violations


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How do you feel about U.S. and European companies selling surveillance equipment to authoritarian regimes to better equip them in oppressing their people? Well, the Global Online Freedom Act that we reported on before would seek to combat this particular problem. Problem is that the bill in question has failed to pass multiple times in the past. What else can address this issue? The EFF may have the answer.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is reporting that there are now two pending cases in the U.S. right now that raise claims against Cisco. What claims, you ask? The company is accused of selling the Chinese government specially made surveillance tools that allow it to persecute democracy activists and those belonging to the Falun Gong religious minority.

While that sounds bad, this story isn’t so much about them, but two cases that are already before the U.S. Supreme Court right now. The two cases in question are Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and Mohamad v. Rojaub and they both deal with the question of whether or not a company can be held accountable for human rights violations.

EFF says that there is evidence pointing to domestic corporate involvement in various countries where massive human rights violations have occurred over the past year. They claim that political prisoners in Bahrain have said their captors read back to them text messages they sent that could have only been obtained using Western spy technologies.

Syria has been a hot ticket for the past few months and grew even hotter once it was revealed that Marie Colvin had been killed in the country while covering the carnage. It’s alleged that tracking equipment provided by Western companies is what led to her execution.

On the flip side of these atrocities, it appears that the surveillance business is doing better than ever. The EFF pegs the market for their devices at about $5 billion a year.

Both cases, Kiobel and Mohamad, will be argued tomorrow with a decision expected by late June. The key to this is whether or not corporations can be seen as individuals. There are already laws in place that convict individuals for assisting oppressive foreign regimes.

EFF is hoping that the decision made in Citizen’s United two years ago that said corporations are individuals will be applied here as well.

We here at WebProNews love technology and strive to report on all the benefits it brings to our daily lives. It's also important to remember, however, that technology is a double-edged sword and can be abused in the wrong hands.

So, what do you think? Even if tech companies provided the tools that led to the death of people like Marie Colvin, do we hold the company or the people who used the technology in that way responsible? Let us know in the comments.