- Aug 17, 2017
The US International Trade Administration (ITA) has admitted it promotes the sale of American-approved commercial spyware to foreign governments, and won't answer questions about it, according to US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). Wyden, in a letter to US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, has demanded answers about the surveillance and policing tech that ITA – a US government agency – pushes to other countries. And he wants the agency to name names when it comes to which companies' spyware is being promoted with US tax dollars.
ITA is housed within the US Commerce Department and tasked with promoting American exports. Wyden chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which has responsibility for international trade policy, and he's not happy. The senator first requested info from ITA about promoting spyware abroad in May 2022. At that time, the agency confirmed it had promoted this type of technology, but it didn't answer questions about which products it endorsed and in which markets.
Both of these things are problematic. Commercial spyware has historically been used to target activists, journalists, and political dissidents, and when it ends up in the hands of authoritarian regimes, these people can end up dead. In March, the agency told Wyden's office that it had a new policy to restrict the promotion of these types of products in the works — but ITA refused to share that policy without a formal request.
Wyden didn't hesitate. In a letter [PDF] on Friday, he asked the agency to see the policy, and also demanded that ITA provide a ton of details about the surveillance technology companies it works with, and how it makes decisions about which businesses to assist."As you know, the Biden administration has recognized that surveillance technologies are frequently used by governments to invade the privacy of their citizens, enable violence and discrimination, and disproportionately harm marginalized and vulnerable communities," Wyden wrote.